What is the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency?
The San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency is a regional water agency that imports State Project Water into the Pass area, sells water to local water retailers, and helps protect our local groundwater basins. The Agency, created in 1961, is one of 29 State Water Contractors, each of whom has the right to purchase water from the State of California and sell that water within its service area on a wholesale or retail basis. The Agency is a water wholesaler; we do not sell water to the end user. The Agency has developed an extensive groundwater database that helps to manage and protect our local groundwater basins, including the Beaumont Basin. The Agency is concerned with meeting water demands from Calimesa to Cabazon.
Why is the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency needed?
Much of the area served by the Agency is experiencing severe groundwater overdraft, which means more water is pumped out of the ground each year than is replaced by nature through rain and snowmelt. Since 2003, the Agency has been importing water through the California Aqueduct to recharge local groundwater basins used by retail water companies, private companies, and individuals for domestic and other purposes. Without the water available from the Agency, groundwater levels would continue to decline (in some areas, water levels have decreased nearly 90 feet in the past 70 years) and some wells would dry up, while the power required to pump the water to the surface would continue to increase each year.
What is the leadership structure of the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency?
The Agency is governed by an elected Board of Directors responsible for making policy decisions that advance the Agency’s mission. Five of the directors represent five divisions, while two are elected at-large representing the entire service area. Each director is elected for a four-year term. Elections are held in November of even-numbered years. The General Manager, appointed by the Board, directs the day-to-day operations of the Agency, implements Board policies, and advises the Board on Agency issues.
Why do I pay taxes to the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency? What do you do with this money?
The tax dollars received from the ad valorem tax that shows up on property owners tax bills can only be used to pay for the California Aqueduct, the system of dams, pumps, pipes, and canals that delivers water to the area from northern California. This includes both debt service on the system as well as operation and maintenance of the system. The law approved by voters to construct this system, the Burns Porter Act of 1960, required that state general fund monies not be used to construct or operate this system. Each of the water agencies that contracts to purchase water from the State through this system must each pay their share of the debt service and operational costs from their own sources. Since the Agency first levied this tax prior to Proposition 13 in 1978, it did not require a local election.
Currently, the Agency pays approximately $14 million per year to Sacramento to pay for the system, whether we get any water or not. The majority of this money goes to pay those who bought the bonds to fund the system. This amount will increase to over $20 million over the next few years as the Agency completes construction of Phase 2 of the East Branch Extension (see below).
Why do we pay taxes to the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency, if we get our water from a well or a water company?
All properties within the Agency’s 225-square mile service area benefit from the Agency’s ability to import water from the California Aqueduct. When there is an insufficient supply of local groundwater available, local water companies and well owners use this imported water for domestic, agricultural, and industrial purposes. Taxes paid to the Agency pay the capital cost of facilities required to build the State Water Project and deliver water to the Agency’s service area.
What is the Agency’s current tax rate?
On August 3, 2020 the Board voted to approve the Agency’s tax rate at $0.1750 per $100 of assessed valuation. This means that if your property is valued at $300,000 the SGPWA tax is $525.00 per year. For a history of our tax rate, click here. This rate is set by the Board each year based on the debt service expenditures, which includes charges that we receive from the California Department of Water Resources. The majority of the bonds will be paid off in 2035; at that time, the tax rate should decrease substantially.
Does the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency have the ability to raise or lower water rates for local residents?
Not directly. The Agency may be required to raise wholesale rates to local water companies in order to cover increases in water rates from the State or other increases in local costs. This may cause local water purveyors to raise their rates to cover the additional cost of purchasing water from the Agency. But the decision on whether or not to raise rates to the end user is made by the local water retailer, not the Agency. This decision may be based on a number of factors, including how much of the retailer’s water is purchased from the Agency.
What are the Agency’s sources of revenue?
The Agency sets an ad valorem tax rate to cover the cost of paying bonds on the State Water Project. In addition, the Agency receives a portion of the property taxes paid to the County. We also receive revenues from water sales and from interest on current funds. The Board of Directors is considering imposing a capacity fee, which would be a fee paid to the Agency for each new house or building constructed in our service area, to help pay for additional water and facilities that will be required once the construction is complete.
Does the Agency’s Board of Directors make land use decisions?
No. The Agency is not a land use planning agency and hence does not approve general plans, specific plans, or building permits, and does not issue “will serve” letters. The Agency has no say in local development. The Agency does respond to growth, both actual and planned. The Agency is taking active steps now to serve growth that is in the process of occurring or that is planned to occur in the near future (that is, has been approved or is in the process of being approve by local cities or the County).
What projects do you have coming up?
The Agency is actively involved in planning for additional water sources and additional facilities as the Pass region grows. Listed below are some of the projects that we are studying:
- Beaumont Avenue Recharge Facility—The Agency is currently designing a new recharge facility on property the Agency owns at Beaumont Avenue and Brookside Avenue in Beaumont. This facility will be required when the East Branch Extension Phase II is completed and the Agency can import its entire allotment of State Water Project water. It will enable the Agency to use water conjunctively—that is, import and store more water in wet years for use in dry years when less water is available. This facility is critical to maintaining the reliability of the State Water Project. The facility will consist of a series of ponds where imported water will be spread so that it may sink into the ground to replenish the Beaumont Basin and stored for later use by local water purveyors. This facility is scheduled to go online in late 2019.
Is the region running out of water?
It is the job of the Agency and other local water retail agencies to ensure that the region does not run short of water. It is the responsibility of local retail water agencies to improve their local supplies, and it is the responsibility of the Agency to augment our supplemental water supplies as needed to meet current and future water demands. This will not be cheap; water rights in this day and age are very expensive but are available. Activities related to augmenting local supplies and supplemental supplies will cost local water agencies, including the Agency, tens of millions of dollars over the next few years, but these actions are critical to ensuring that our water supply is reliable enough to get us through drought years. The Agency is actively involved in water conservation and education efforts to help reduce the region’s water demands and make our current supplies go further.
How much water does the Agency have?
The Agency contracted with the State of California for 17,300 acre-feet per year in 1962. We currently have the ability to convey approximately half of this water to the region. This 17,300 is only 63% reliable due to meteorological and environmental constraints. This means that the 17,300 acre-feet (about 5.75 billion gallons) is actually only about 11,000 acre-feet (about 3.6 billion gallons) on a reliable basis. This is why it is critical for the Agency to augment our supplemental water supplies. The Agency is working on expanding our delivery system (East Branch Extension) so that we can import more water in wet years to get us through drier years. The Agency also has a 20-year lease on an additional 1,700 acre-feet of water from the Antelope Valley – East Kern Water Agency. This water is 100% reliable and the lease runs through 2036.