October 29, 2001
Guest Editorial: Water commissioners deserve your careful consideration
by Gwenn Maxfield
Some folks have asked, "Why should I bother to vote for a water commissioner? I don't see how they affect me?" It could be that the speaker obtains water from a private well, in which case the connection to a water district seems remote.
However, a water utility greatly impacts a watershed. Even if you do not purchase water from a municipal utility (city or district), you likely care what happens to your watershed and the environment in general. So, take care that environmental stewards are elected to all levels of office.
Water utilities obtain the water they sell from either streams or the ground. In Western Washington there is now heightened concern about endangered species of salmon, and having enough water in streams is a critical component of the fish habitat and, therefore, survival.
You want an elected official who understands and cares enough about the development to think regionally about the development and delivery of water to not overdevelop any one water source and understand the fiscal responsibilities that accompany the costly development of water sources.
Regional development of water has an added emphasis currently because pollution growth has stressed our natural resources to the maximum. In earlier times, water utilities could act more independently because a stream withdrawal could satisfy the local population without ruining the stream habitat. With the increased population today, two phenomena have changed the ease and simplicity of water development. First, growth hasn't always happened where the largest sources of potable water are available. Some areas have withdrawn the maximum amount of water that the stream can provide for both people and fish, while other areas still have more water than growth has demanded. In these cases we should be looking for physical and financial methods to transfer the water from the abundant areas to the deficient areas. We need elected officials who look for the optimal solution to meet the water-for-fish/water-for-people requirements and not "hog" water for their exclusive use.
The second outcome of the demand for water has been an interest in reclaimed water. Reclaiming water through purification methods can be more expensive than traditional methods, but one has to ask, what is the cost of withdrawing water to the point of total degradation? We need elected officials who are willing to scrutinize the options for potable water and support newer technologies, even before the public realizes or accepts the need for diversity.
The fiduciary responsibilities for an elected water commissioner are similar to that of a city council member. Bonds are approved and sold to pay for capital construction; daily operations, including water purchase and delivery, are expensive to maintain. Citizens deserve an elected official who takes these responsibilities seriously, makes informed decisions and does not expect to personally benefit from the decisions facing the board. Good government is also important at the local, grass-roots level of a water district.
While the function of a water district may not seem to impact everyone, it is an operation that deserves the community's oversight. The first level of community oversight comes from the elected board, and I hope you give the position careful consideration. You may not hear from the utility on a monthly basis in the form of a utility bill, but hopefully you strive to elect community leaders who bring a thoughtful, ethical approach to all levels of government.
Gwenn Maxfield is currently a Woodinville Water District commissioner.