Over the last 40 years, I have seen the San Lorenzo Valley Water District (District) take on many difficult challenges, including drought, landslides, flooding, earthquakes, and fire. However, none of the previous years proved to be as difficult and challenging as 2020. Before August, the District was focused on its response to COVID-19 to ensure its staff and community’s safety. That included implementing new office and field protocols to improve sanitation, meeting all State and County orders and separating work forces to ensure adequate staffing. The District also met the challenge of two PG&E public safety power outages while dealing with changes in staffing and meeting new protocols. Then in August the CZU Lighting Complex Fire moved through the San Lorenzo Valley. The District saw more than 1,600 acres of its watershed properties burned, lost miles of raw water pipeline, and suffered damage to our water storage and surface water infrastructure. It was not only the District who grieved losses, but the surrounding San Lorenzo Valley community as well, with many losing homes to the fire. Although these were difficult circumstances, I am beyond proud of our community’s, Board of Directors’ and staff’s response. The resiliency of the San Lorenzo Valley and surrounding areas to work together to rebuild and restore continues to impress me.
I am looking forward to welcoming the new year and with it the productive track the District remains set on. In 2021 the District plans to continue to improve its infrastructure, restore post-fire damage, harden its facilities from future disasters, deliver high-quality water, provide outstanding customer service, and work with the community to create a stronger San Lorenzo Valley.
There is no doubt 2021 will be a challenging year, as the District will have to work through new challenges while moving forward a multitude of previously established projects. The impacts from the CZU fire will be felt for many years to come and our community is still preparing for the potential of debris flows. The District completed a project on its watershed property to harden the stream channel in case of a debris-flow disaster, is working closely with the County of Santa Cruz in preparation for evacuations, and has allowed State and other agencies such as the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to complete debris-flow monitoring studies on our watershed land.
Beyond the impacts of the fire, customers and the District are still dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The District and its customers are in a reciprocal partnership – the District is a public utility and depends on its customers, while its customers depend on the District to receive high-quality water service. Many residents in our community are struggling with economic distress and unable to regularly pay their water bill. The District understands these circumstances and wants to extend help to anyone in need. Customers need to contact our customer service staff to start a payment plan or visit our website (SLVWD.com) to qualify for the District’s Rate Assistance Program.
We look forward to working with the community, partner agencies, and our Board of Directors in the new year. I am honored to work for our community with such a dedicated Board of Directors and staff.