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Water District Adopts Reforms for Sustainability

By Naseem Farooqi
Media Contact
2020-11-04 at 09:22:24

After months of meetings and thoughtful review, the West Valley Water District (WVWD) Board of Directors today adopted 10 major reforms crafted with staff and vetted by department managers that will deliver increased transparency, accountability and savings for ratepayers.  

 Earlier this year, WVWD Board President Channing Hawkins requested proposals from department managers for new strategies to improve the effectiveness and integrity of the agency’s operations. Managers worked closely with their staff to develop plans with clearly defined objectives and metrics for success. Board members and management also sought to address and improve upon not only the issues outlined in the 2018-2019 state audit, but long-standing systemic issues as well. 

 “Change requires more than just talk, so we are walking the walk by cementing our commitment to excellence through these initiatives,” said WVWD Board President Channing Hawkins. “These 10 reforms change how West Valley Water District operates at every level. Amid the pandemic and uncertainty that surrounds us, I’m proud of the teamwork, diligence and honesty exhibited by our board and staff to deliver on our promise to give ratepayers the water district they deserve.” 

 WVWD Board Vice President Kyle Crowther said, “Today, we expand on the measures we have made to increase accountability and transparency. This plan creates a real path forward for continued success.” 

 The ten reforms are official initiatives grouped into three categories: (1) transparency  (2) accountability and (3) sustainability. The board of directors granted managers freedom on how to explore and collect reform ideas from their staff. As a result of this bottom-up process, staff generated a series of reforms that affect nearly every level of WVWD operations. Listed below are the ten reforms, organized by category and each with a brief summary.  

 WVWD Director Dr. Michael Taylor stated, "I fully support these reform measures which expand on the policies approved under my presidency. Working with our new board president, I am proud that he has been able to complete these reforms in such a short period of time. Our new measures will ensure our ratepayers are protected."

 #1: “Get It Done” Initiative (An Accountability Reform) 

The Get It Done initiative will require WVWD to create and approve a strict budget calendar (or fiscal schedule) with firm dates every year that will help hold board and staff members accountable to their roles, responsibilities and obligations. The measure also mandates that the budget process include public budget workshops, departmental meetings, official reviews and a board vote. By approving this budget calendar, the WVWD board will approve financial issues on an annual basis, rather than review and approve each transaction individually, a system that has prolonged the budget process and lead to missed deadlines.

 #2: “New Rules, No Exceptions” Initiative (An Accountability Reform)

The lack of an accounting manual was a material deficiency outlined in the fiscal year 2018-2019 audit. To counter this issue, the New Rules, No Exceptions initiative will create an accounting manual of practices that manages and protects assets, while outlining required controls for all staff who interact with water district finances. This initiative also requires that staff conduct regular updates to the manual to keep the agency current with evolving industry best practices.

 #3 “Controls Against Errors & Abuse” Initiative (An Accountability Reform)

In accordance with the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the Controls Against Errors & Abuse reform initiative requires annual rigorous reviews of finance department staff roles and responsibilities. Auditors conducting a fiscal year 2018-2019 review found some segregation of duties issues for accounting and contracts; the segregation, or separation, of duties is the assignment of various steps in a process to different people. Segregation of duties is important and serves two key purposes: (1) it ensures that there is oversight to catch errors and (2) helps to prevent fraud by eliminating the possibility of one person having the sole responsibility of two conflicting tasks.

 #4: “Professional Services Opportunity Pool” Initiative (An Accountability Reform)

Under the Professional Services Opportunity Pool initiative, WVWD will create a pool of prequalified, pre-negotiated professional service providers. Required services above $25,000 will be opened for bidding by qualified firms at a set rate and staff will submit their approved firms to the board for admittance to the pre-negotiated service pool. Every year, WVWD will invite prospective bidders to a public pool of vendors that will be vetted for qualifications and experience. This pool will create a pre-approved group of vendors for services like general maintenance, accounting and legal work (excluding general counsel) etc. A committee of employees will select firms to be available at pre-negotiated rates, which will both result in lower costs for ratepayers and allow WVWD to quickly react to situations by being able to utilize an approved list of qualified vendors.

 #5: Board Policies and Procedures Manual (An Accountability Reform)

The WVWD Board of Directors Policies and Procedures Manual will specify how the board it to conduct its business, its actions/decisions and establish clear duties, roles, a code of ethics and other responsibilities. The policies and procedures will expand on board reform measures approved in 2018 and 2019.

 #6: “Financial Reporting” Policy (A Transparency Reform)

Following up on the Get It Done policy, this Financial Reporting policy requires WVWD to share a public, annual budget calendar that lists important financial deadlines with financial reports and audits.

 #7: “The Twenty-First Century Digitization” Initiative (A Transparency Reform)

Under this initiative, WVWD will bring the entire agency into the 21st century by scanning, storing and consolidating digital copies of water supply source information, agreements, purchase records and other documents in a new, digital records management system. This digitization process will help the public, board of directors, senior management and staff members easily access important information about our water supply. It will also protect critical records from being damaged, lost or hidden and thus allow for greater transparency and public oversight. 

 #8: “The Lytle Creek Sustainability Project” Initiative (A Sustainability Reform)

Groundwater is a vital component of California’s water supply. In water basins across the state, groundwater withdrawal often exceeds the amount that is replenished. This condition, known as overdraft, leads to higher energy use (to pump from deeper wells), sinking lands, reduced streamflow and reduced water quality. Due to years of regional drought and population growth, the West Valley needs to find ways to replenish its basins. The Lytle Creek Sustainability Project initiative directs WVWD staff to conduct a groundwater study that explores ways to replenish the groundwater basins adjacent to Lytle Creek and create a responsible plan for greater water resource regeneration and sustainability.

 #9: “Save & Sustain Our Water” Initiative (A Sustainability Reform)

​Though WVWD met its state-mandated water savings well ahead of schedule significant reductions in individual water usage is required if the water supply is to keep up with an expected explosion in population growth. To this end, WVWD will analyze population trends and ongoing water supply changes to establish a new individual water usage target that will allow WVWD to reduce strain on local water supplies and enhance long-term price and supply stability and sustainability.

 #10: “WVWD Water Academy” Initiative (A Sustainability Reform)

Water use habits are set early in our lives. By encouraging water conservation at an early age, WVWD can promote sustainability, reduce community water resource usage and help ratepayers save money. Under the WVWD Water Academy initiative, the agency will create an educational curriculum for our region’s classrooms and communities. This initiative includes a water education mobile classroom trailer with interactive exhibits and displays to expand conservation program effectiveness in schools and community settings. It also includes program materials, community sessions with a WVWD representative and post-program follow-up to determine our program’s effectiveness.

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