With the unfortunate passing of San Juan Water District board member Bob Walters, the district now has a vacant seat it must fill. The board has decided to appoint an individual to fill the remaining term of Mr. Walters as opposed to the expense of a special election. After a couple folks encouraged me to apply, and a period of reflection about the implications of serving on a local water district board, I decided to submit a letter of interest for consideration to fill the board vacancy.
San Juan Water District Board Vacancy
I would not have even considered applying for the vacancy if I had not spent time as a volunteer on the informal San Juan Water District drought committee and participation in the rate payer review of the proposed 2017 rate structure for the district. It was during these meetings that I got to know Bob Walters. We even chatted on the phone a couple times about different issues. I was impressed with the way Bob listened to people with an open mind. He considered all suggestions, no matter how far-fetched they were. His comments were never insulting or arrogant. Rather, he spoke to the big water picture. He understood the history, water rights, and how small decisions can have large impacts down the road.
Director Bob Walters
I admired Bob Walters and he unwittingly changed my perception of the San Juan Water District. My brief encounters with some of the board members and staff reinforced my view that the San Juan Water District is made of up good people trying to do the right thing under, at times, difficult circumstances. I may not agree with all of their decisions, but I can see the complex issues, rules, regulations, and laws that they have to consider when making those tough decisions.
The San Juan Water District Board of Directors has decided to appoint a director to fill the vacancy left by Mr. Walters as opposed to having a special election. From my perspective, an appointment is different than running for a board of director position. Any person who is appointed should mirror, to the best of his or her abilities, the qualities and positions upon which Mr. Walters was elected. This is only fair to the voters who elected Mr. Walters. From my limited time spent in meetings and conversations with Bob Walters, I’m relatively comfortable in assessing that our approach to issues is similar, albeit with the caveat that he had far more experience than I.
Who Is Kevin Knauss?
For people who don’t know me, here is the thumbnail sketch version of Kevin Knauss. I grew up in Citrus Heights and graduated from San Juan High School in 1981. In 1989 I graduated from UC Davis with a B.S. in International Agricultural Development with an emphasis in irrigation and economics. When I was attending UC Davis I organized and hosted tours of the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta. These tours, in conjunction with an organization that promoted small and family farming, were meant to educate people on the importance and fragility of the Delta in California’s complex water infrastructure.
After college I work as a manufacturer’s representative in the irrigation and plumbing wholesale markets of Northern California. In 2001 I partnered with another gentleman to start a wireless irrigation controller company. I oversaw its development and marketing. We were a little ahead of the curve with market acceptance and, unfortunately, under capitalized. I finally closed up the company in 2005. While the business venture did not go according to the business plan, I am proud of the fact that absolutely all of my vendors were paid and the only person who lost money was me.
In 2002 I became a Water Protection Specialist for the California Rural Water Association. I worked with small water districts whose primary source of drinking water was ground water. We identified potential sources of ground water pollution, put them on a map, and developed recommendations for preventing their source water from becoming contaminated. This was a fabulous and tremendously rewarding job. But it was also time consuming because of travel throughout California.
In order to spend more time at home I took a position at a small irrigation wholesale distributor in Carmichael, CA, in 2003. Since my family was living in Elk Grove, we searched for a home closer to work. We found a “fixer-upper” in Granite Bay and bought it in 2003. Of all the ironies in life with the most recent drought, we were notified in 2016 that our house sits in a designated 100-year FEMA flood zone.
I’m In A FEMA Flood Plain
From looking at the FEMA flood maps I could tell they had improperly identified the path of Linda Creek, the historic path runs through my backyard. With the help of the Placer County Division of Flood Plain Management, we were able to get FEMA to amend the map. Even though Linda Creek will be shown flowing into a storm drain that runs underneath Pendleton Drive, our house will remain in the 100-year flood plain. Regardless of the outcome, it was a pleasure working with the folks at Placer County to address the flooding concerns of residents on my street. (You can visit the webpage I established on the FEMA flood map for my neighborhood by visiting https://insuremekevin.com/kevin-knauss/folsom-lake-granite-bay/granite-bay-linda-creek-fema-flood-maps/ )
In 2010 I decided to make a career change and became a health insurance agent. This was not the brightest financial move I have ever made. (You can visit my post on how much I earn as a health insurance agent at https://insuremekevin.com/how-much-do-health-insurance-agents-earn/ ). Oddly enough, life has worked out. Perhaps my original instincts of wanting a career with independence, a desire to help people, and creative autonomy were correct. The kindest thing I can say about insurance sales is that it sucks. So I don’t sell insurance. I help people enroll in health insurance. My website is my marketing vehicle. People can visit my website, read what I have written and the information I have posted, and they can call me if they want to talk and request my assistance.
Grand Jury Service
While I’m not getting rich, I’m able to indulge other pursuits that have given me tremendous satisfaction such as community service and researching local history. In 2014 I was selected for the Placer County Grand Jury. I served two terms, 2014 – 2015 and 2015 – 2016. If you think it is tough to get 5 board members to agree on something, try getting 19 Grand Jurors to make a decision.
But I learned some valuable lessons through my time on the Grand Jury. First, check the politics at the door. Injecting politics into deliberations will only spoil the process. Second, always respect your fellow members and their opinions. Unless you have walked in the shoes of that person, it is hard to completely understand their perspective. It’s completely natural to disagree and have differences of opinion, but you still need to respect the person’s view. Thirdly, work to promote collegiality. Tough topics with varying opinions can create contentious discussions. But everyone on the committee or board really has the same goal of trying to arrive at the best decision for the organization. There were times when I completely disagreed with a fellow juror’s conclusions. The compromise we eventually agreed upon was made much easier because we put our team and work ahead of our differences.
History Of Water Development
Since our house is relatively close to Folsom Lake, I am always over there running, biking, or walking around. When the drought began to really grip California in 2014, and Folsom Lake level kept dropping, I would stumble across old concrete structures normally hidden under the reservoir. I started researching the history of the North Fork and South Fork of the American River and realized that many of these concrete structures were historic water canals. Hence, my interest and fascination with the history of the area began to flourish. I’ve posted many blogs with pictures of the historic structures I have encountered hiking up down Folsom Lake. All of these posts and images culminated in my publishing a book, “Hidden History Beneath Folsom Lake”.
The main focus of the book is the three main water ditches within the Folsom Lake footprint: the North Fork Ditch, Negro Hill Ditch, and the Natomas Ditch. The North Fork Ditch is the predecessor to the San Juan Suburban Water District. The construction of the North Fork Ditch, commencing in 1854, established the appropriative water rights that San Juan Water District has today. What is less recognized and understood is the incredible role North Fork Ditch water played in making northeast Sacramento County bloom.
The Orange Vale Colony, known today as Orangevale, was made possible because North Fork Ditch water was delivered into the colony in redwood stave pipes. The water system ran in a grid pattern so that each 5 acre parcel had access to water for farming. Water from the North Fork Ditch was also sold to Fair Oaks and Citrus Heights and was a primary source water until electric pumps were designed to pump water from deep below the surface of the ground.
The old wholesale and retail water delivery boundaries of the North Fork Ditch became San Juan Water District during the construction of Folsom Dam when the old water canals had to be abandoned. Today we have the model of a very collaborative water delivery system that can actually enhance water reliability. In years with an abundance of surface water, other districts within the San Juan Water District can lean heavy of the treated Folsom Lake water preserving and protecting their ground water sources. In the event of a drought or other emergency, those areas can pump mainly ground water and potentially supply it to areas that have no water wells.
I know San Juan Water District has worked with other districts and agencies to strengthen this collaborative model. I support such actions because no district is an island when it comes to water. Every district faces issues with regards to availability, infrastructure, contamination, costs and general state and federal bureaucracy. The more water districts collaborate to enhance availability and reliability, the less likely consumers will be asked to severely restrict their water consumption in times of short supply.
Many of these topics were brought up during the San Juan Water District drought committee and the consumer rate review meetings I attended. I was not the most popular person in my neighborhood when I supported the proposal to increase the San Juan Water District retail water rates. I came to that conclusion after hours of studying the financial situation of San Juan Water District. (Read my post on why I supported the rate increase at https://insuremekevin.com/san-juan-water-district-granite-bay-rate-increases-reflect-real-costs-business/ )
For the most part, I am pretty much a fiscal conservative. I don’t like to see either rate payer or tax payer dollars wasted. I’m no fan of bloated government payrolls, inflated compensation schedules, or buying new vehicles just because there is money left unspent in the annual budget.
Rate payer dollars can be wasted in one of two ways. First, a board can approve expenditures that yield very little utility to a district such as purchasing new vehicles when the existing fleet is in great shape. Second, a board can delay decisions that drive up future costs. For example, if a board always refuses to raise rates while the cost of production keeps rising, the budget is eventually going to break. The worst case scenario is in an emergency in which the district has to go out and borrow money to fix a system failure. Because the district’s balance sheet looks like an insolvent company, the district will have to pay a higher interest rate on the loan. This debt service must be passed on to the rate payers.
The second scenario is where I ascertained San Juan Water District was heading. Contrary to the impression that some people have, there is really no fat to cut out of San Juan Water District. Oh sure, you can raise the thermostat to 85 degrees to save some electricity costs. And it may be cheaper to pay some overtime to employees instead of hiring a new crew member. But there are a lot of structures and facilities within the district that are nearing the end of their useful life. We are talking about critical pieces of the water system that if they fail will be an immediate emergency forcing people to stop using water. These parts of the water treatment and storage infrastructure must be replaced before they fail.
If you read how much I earn a year, you’ll believe me when I say that I don’t want my water bill to increase. But we rate payers are going to have to pay for the replacement of the water system infrastructure sooner or later. We can do it now through higher rates, or wait for the system to fail and be forced to pay even more because of higher debt service. I supported paying for it today.
I’ll admit that was a long thumbnail sketch outlining my education and work involving water. But writing serves another purpose for me. When presented with a fork in the road, writing helps me determine if I want to take the new path. If you review my website, you will learn a lot about me. I try to be pretty transparent. One of the joys of my insurance profession is getting to talk to people all across California. People want to know who they are dealing with when it comes to health insurance.
If appointed to the Board, I would like to get to know more of the consumers and rate payers of the district. This sort of constituent interaction may be as simple as sitting in a café in Fair Oaks chatting with people or at the Citrus Heights Community Center answering water related questions. The San Juan Water District has updated their website with even more information about district operations. But water districts are complex and some people learn better in face to face informal meetings.
Am I The Right Person?
Am I the right person to fill the board vacancy? That is a decision for the San Juan Water District Board of Directors. All I can do is offer my background, experience, knowledge, and understanding of the wholesale and retail divisions of the water district. I will admit that I have developed a unique interest in the district because of its history beginning as a water project to deliver water to gold mining operations along the American River and its current and future role to sustain and enhance water reliability for south Placer and northeast Sacramento counties.
I don’t expect most people, board members, or even professional politicians to be as open as I am. There are different comfort levels when it comes to privacy. I respect that. But I’m usually available to answer questions in-person, on the phone, email, or through the comment system on my website. Just like I have posted on my website, “Even if I am hiking, give me call” it’s amazing that you can get mobile phone reception while hiking up Hancock Creek on the South Fork of the American River.
What Is The Role Of The Board?
From my perspective, the Board of Directors has three areas of responsibility. The first is to shepherd the district to the highest efficiency possible with the measurement being the cost of production of a unit of treated and delivered water. The board achieves this goal through a series of decisions that have both short term and long impacts. A condition of meeting this responsibility is that the treated water produced is of the highest quality standards and the district is maintaining robust water pressures within the distribution system.
A second area of responsibility is preserving and enhancing the longevity of the water treatment and distribution system. This entails evaluating plans for the replacement of infrastructure that will be nearing the end of its useful life. Proper planning for the maintenance and replacement of the treatment and distribution facilities reduces the likelihood of unforeseen failures, and expensive repairs, to the system. The goal is to perpetuate the water system in the best possible condition into the future.
Finally, the board must be the steward of the resources for the district. The resources not only include the physical structures, but the employees of the district along with the source water for the district. Good stewardship encompasses safeguarding the water rights of the district coupled with improving water availability and reliability in uncertain circumstances. This means the board must be actively engaged with all the regulatory agencies and regional water districts. This stewardship is perhaps one the most difficult areas of responsibility because of the complicated nature of the different rules, regulations and laws that the district is subject to from federal and state jurisdictions.
The SJWD Board of Directors will be interviewing candidates for open director position on September 19th through September 26th. They developed a list of four questions for the candidates to answer before the interviews. Below are the questions and my answers.
Board of Director Interview Questions
Do you expect to serve until 2018 and is it your intention to run for election?
The first order of business is to fulfill the remainder of Director Walter’s term honorably and in a fashion that best represents the qualities for which he was elected to office. In the course of fulfilling the term of office, I will assess whether I am a good fit for the nature of the duties of a director and communicate with SJWD residents as to whether they feel I should run for election to the board.
Tell us about yourself and your qualifications that would make you an effective Board member?
An effective board member is one who is engaged, willing to learn, and pays attention to the details of the many issues that the board must consider. The quality of effectiveness is one that matures and evolves through the experience, background, and actions of the individual.
The starting point of being an effective director for me is my grasp of the big picture of water development in California, and specifically, the San Juan Water District (SJWD). Through my volunteer work with the SJWD Drought Committee and Consumer Rate Review Committee, I have developed a deeper understanding of the wholesale and retail operations of the district.
I have studied the history of the North Fork Ditch Company, predecessor of the SJWD, and how they had their original water rights confirmed and adjudicated in 1895. I also have studied and written about the expansion of the North Fork Ditch Company as they began to service Orangevale, Citrus Heights, and Fair Oaks. Much of this research helped me write my book Hidden History Beneath Folsom Lake that I published in 2016.
In the course of my research for historical topics I have written on, I have also studied the development of the Central Valley Project, State Water Project, and the ongoing issues surrounding the water transfers out of the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta.
This history is not always applicable today, but it does illustrate the original concepts and operation of Folsom Dam and SJWD’s relationship with the Bureau of Reclamation. In particular, a historical perspective on California water development also highlights the vagaries of water law and rights in our state. The complexity, and near stupidity of some water laws, regulations and court decisions, are to be understood, if not completely comprehended, if for no other reason than to become familiar with the regulatory landscape in which SJWD must operate.
Reviewing The Numbers
While history is fascinating, an effective board director needs to embrace the numbers. Many board decisions revolve around the familiarity and understanding of the statistics and dollars as it relates to the issue or project. I am not an economist, engineer, attorney, or CPA. But I do enjoy diving into a spreadsheet to understand the information presented. When I have questions, I ask them.
Perhaps my closest approximation to a board experience is serving two terms on the Placer County Grand Jury, 2014 – 2015, and 2015 – 2016. The primary role of a Grand Jury is to investigate the operations of various county departments. These investigations may or may not be originated by a citizen complaint.
There were many times during my tenure on the Placer County Grand Jury when it was necessary, in the course of an investigation, to review budgets, policies, and procedures of a county department. My own work as a health insurance agent necessitates that I read and comprehend the contents of a variety of documents related to rates and policies. It can be boring, to say the least. But plowing through those documents gives me a better understanding of how to present the information to my clients.
Each member of the Placer County Jury sat on three different committees. As a Grand Juror I chaired a committee each year, was a lead investigator arranging witness interviews, taking notes, and reporting out to the full panel of 19 members. I also volunteered to be the initial report writer on several reports which was then reviewed, edited and enhanced by the committee and full panel of Grand Jurors.
During my second term I was the Foreperson Pro-Tempore. While I would occasionally chair the full panel meetings in the forepersons absence, my main duties focused preparing the incoming citizen complaints, assigning them to committees, reviewing Grand Jury procedures during full panel meetings, and keeping track of the progress of the different investigations during the year.
I also gained an appreciation for the diplomacy and tack necessary to work with 19 other Grand Jurors. The first step toward decorum was to leave politics at the Grand Jury room entrance. Next was bestowing the respect to my fellow Grand Jurors as I would like them to respect me. To varying degrees we were also able to foster an atmosphere of collegiality which helped to smooth ruffled feathers when discussions would become contentious.
Irrigation and Hydraulics
Rounding out my qualifications is my extensive background in irrigation. In addition to studying irrigation in college, I went on to work in the irrigation and plumbing industry for a number of years. I oversaw the development of a wireless irrigation controller in 2001. While working for an irrigation wholesaler in Carmichael I routinely designed residential and commercial landscape irrigation systems and bid on local, state, and federal proposals for irrigation, waterworks, and plumbing parts.
A final qualification to be an effective board director is the ability to listen and consider opposing views. It’s through active listening, with an empathetic ear, which allows one to see a problem or solution from a different perspective. This is important because directors are representing consumers. You must, to the best of your ability, put yourself in someone else’s position to get a fuller perspective of the problem and potential solution. I like to think that I have become an active and engaged listener to perspectives from all points of view.
You are welcome to visit my website www.insuremekevin.com and review the numerous posts and pages I maintain regarding local history, health insurance, and myself.
Why are interested in serving on the Board?
I am of the opinion that if you have a particular set of skills or resources that might be employed to help and support your community, you should offer your time to preserve and enhance the community in which you live. I have body of knowledge related to the development of water projects in California and the SJWD service area. I’m capable of understanding complex financial and engineering documents. I have an interest in seeing the SJWD continue to supply high quality water in our community.
If you review any of my writings on the history and development of the region, you’ll begin to understand the deep appreciation and connection I have to the area. The North Fork Ditch made south Placer and northeast Sacramento counties bloom. The thread of water, first started by a dam on the North Fork of the American in 1854, continues to nurture families, businesses, gardens, and landscapes throughout the SJWD service area. I have a selfish interest in seeing this historical legacy perpetuated for the benefit of all who are served by the district.
I do not have a political agenda. I don’t bring some grand master plan on how I think the SJWD should be operated or the political water fights they should undertake. I would much rather work to build a consensus among board members on a path forward that improves our water availability and reliability in the future.
Describe your role as a Director?
In general, the role of the board and individual directors can be divided into three areas: shepherding, planning, and stewardship.
The Board, as representatives of the public, has a duty to shepherd the district to maximum efficiency in operations where the measurements are the cost of the production of a unit of treated water, with the highest possible drinking water quality and robust distribution pressure in the system for the retail consumers. The shepherding process is the close evaluation of issues such as rates, contracts, and projects brought to the board from the General Manager and staff. The board is providing the guidance on how to proceed on a variety of issues that puts the interests of the district’s consumers first.
Next is thoughtful planning for future maintenance and replacement of the integral parts of the treatment and distribution system. This is long range forecasting and planning and made with an eye toward perpetuating the system in the best possible condition for future years. Careful consideration must also be given to water contracts with different agencies and how state and federal regulations might impinge on the district’s source water availability.
Finally, directors must be good stewards of the districts resources. Resources include the district’s infrastructure, employees, water rights and contracts. Directors have a duty to protect and preserve those resources.
Virtually all of the issues I have seen brought before the Board have elements of shepherding, planning and stewardship. They are often intertwined as the board takes the recommendations of staff, looks to the future, and is always considering the stewardship of the resources on behalf of the district’s residents. As a director I will always be cognizant of the responsibility of shepherding, planning, and stewardship that I believe make up the core of the San Juan Water Districts Board of Director’s mission.
September 10th Update
According the SJWD 16 individuals expressed interest and are eligible for the vacant board position. At the September 13th board meeting, the directors will need to decide on how to proceed with the vetting process. The SJWD staff made some suggestions on how to proceed in a report that is attached. I subsequently emailed by own suggestions for possible path forward for the board. In my suggestions, the goal is to get to just a handful of candidates that the board can have meaningful discussions with at open session. A field of 16 candidates is too big to have quality interactions within a reasonable board meeting time of no more than 3 to 4 hours.
Suggestions & Options for Board Vacancy Vetting
Here are a few suggestions or options for the board to consider that may reduce the time spent in a meeting situation. I am also proposing a two round system where fewer candidates can be questioned more in depth by the board.
1. Questionnaire: The board, at the Sept. 13th meeting, agrees to set of questions that they would like all those who have submitted their names for consideration should answer. The questionnaire should be return to the board no later than 48 hours before the next board meeting where the candidates will be allowed to speak directly to the board. On the questionnaire, allow the board members to privately assign a score to each answer, perhaps on a 1 – 5 scale. This would be for their own deliberations and not to be shared with other board members.
2. Introductions: The board schedules a meeting where all the nominees are allowed to give a 5 minute introduction of themselves and their qualifications to the board. The board asks no questions at this session. The board takes a recess for considering, each board member separate and in private, to review their notes and questionnaire.
3. Candidate Interviews: Upon returning from the recess, each board member would nominate one of the candidates to move forward to an interview round. This would provide 4 of the candidates the opportunity to engage further with the board members at the next scheduled meeting. If all four board members nominated the same person to be interviewed, they could simply vote on appointing that person at that meeting or the next scheduled meeting.
4. Interview Round: Each interview would be for a set duration of time and could conclude sooner if their are no more questions from the board or the nominee. The board members could ask questions for clarification about what the candidate had answered on the questionnaire or other items of interest. If each nominee is allotted 30 minutes, the first part of the meeting would be 2 hours in length. The board could recess, and each board member could consider their options in private. Upon returning from the recess, one of the board members will make a motion to appoint one of the candidates and the public board discussion can begin.
I’m not saying this is the best option for vetting the candidates. Some of these suggestions may dovetail with what the staff has already proposed. From experience, I know how hard it can be to keep track of numerous candidates. There will be individuals that the board can agree upon that may not be fit for the position. It is a waste of time to keep those people in the process when the board really needs to focus on those candidates they think will best serve the district.
Kevin Knauss, 9/10/2017
To read many of the blogs I have posted about water development in and around Folsom Lake visit https://insuremekevin.com/category/history-2/