Company Reports - Oceanside Water
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Oceanside Water: Innovative Rates and Services
Since 1890, the Oceanside Water Utilities Department has been providing the Southern Californian coastal city of Oceanside with a full array of water and wastewater services. While most utilities only specialize in one of those aspects, Oceanside has mastered the art of doing it all.
Oceanside produces local water and treats imported water in addition to executing delivery and metering to customers’ homes, billing, wastewater collection and treatment plant operation.
Even as a full-service utility, Oceanside understands the importance of financial accountability and strives to provide low rates to customers.
“Fiscal Responsibility was identified as one of the strategic areas that we really needed to focus on and everything we do reflects that mantra,” says Oceanside Water Utilities Director Cari Dale.
Over time, Oceanside has evolved, producing small amounts of local supplies in the 1900s and then shifting to purchasing importing water in the 1940s, but the utility is currently moving back towards utilizing more local water and adding desalination. Currently, 80 to 85 percent of Oceanside’s water is purchased from the San Diego County Water Authority and the remainder can be traced back to the local Mission Basin.
Overall, the Oceanside Water Utilities Department operates and maintains 12 reservoirs, over 500 miles of waterlines, and 34 sewer lift stations.
Oceanside operates four treatment plants and accordingly must keep up with a long list of regulations. A compliance officer continuously monitors the utility’s regulatory compliance.
“We realize that we’re delivering a consumable product so we’re very sensitive to making sure it is safe to drink,” Dale says. “And, as a coastal city, water quality in the waterways and beaches is also very important to tourism.”
Like all utilities, Oceanside faces struggles with infrastructure, rates and water supplies, but it works through challenges with comprehensive strategies.
Oceanside has been developing a strategic plan to provide organizational focus and to clarify the priorities for action; this includes fiscal responsibility. Part of that focus area includes working with consultants on a financial model to evaluate different operating scenarios and to plan for short and long term projects.
“We’re looking at how each of the scenarios will affect us financially and then taking the most cost-effective course which also meets our operational needs,” says Dale. “There’s often a disconnect there, however, we have had some small wins recently using this strategy and we will keep working through any challenges.”
The utility is also focused on looking for opportunities for revenue generation by entering into long-term power purchase agreements, maximizing the use of its treatment plants and using reverse auction bidding for many of its chemical purchases.
“[The auction] saved us about $60,000,” Dale says. “Every $60,000 we can save adds up to large dollars. Being cost conscious translates into low rates for Oceanside customers.”
Productivity, Efficiency and Innovation
The Department’s Strategic Plan also outlines a course of action to drive its own productivity and efficiency gains through internal innovations and stakeholder collaboration.
Oceanside is continually looking for partnerships that allow the utility to maximize benefits, make the most of its own assets while benefiting from and contributing to nearby property and systems.
Recently, Oceanside entered into a public/private partnership on a cogeneration facility where an investor has put in the infrastructure for producing power by using Oceanside’s biogas. Through a long-term purchasing contract, Oceanside will purchase the clean energy at a lower cost than if buying from the utility.
Another energy provider will be installing a one megawatt solar field on vacant land adjacent to one of Oceanside’s wastewater plants. Oceanside will provide the land; the partner will provide the solar power under a long term purchase contract.
Dale says that public/private partnerships are ideal, as they allow the investor to benefit from rebates that cannot be received by public agencies and typically, the financial investment for the utility is very low.
One of Oceanside’s most exciting partnerships involves a group of several water and wastewater agencies and cities called the North San Diego County Regional Recycled Water Project.
The group aims to develop a large-scale recycled water system across jurisdictional boundaries in order to produce and distribute 10,000 acre feet per year of recycled water in the North County area.
Some of the group’s partners have very robust and extensive recycled water systems and means to produce recycled water and some do not, but the partnership allows all agencies an economy of scale and may expedite the delivery of recycled water throughout the arid area.
What sets Oceanside apart from other utilities is its ability to take control of its own destiny and use innovation to get a solid handle on its infrastructure.
Oceanside has no intention to slow down its progress and Dale says that with its focus on local water and exploration of options like biosolid use and desalination, the utility will surely be a source of ground-breaking developments.
“We’re continually exploring options and I think that we will be doing a lot of exciting things,” says Dale.