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Maria Gutzeit: Newhall County Water District celebrates 60th

Posted: August 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 8, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

Water has shaped the history of cities and communities across the West. If you want to get an idea how water influenced the Santa Clarita Valley, start by looking at the Newhall County Water District, the first water agency to be established by residents of the valley.

This year Newhall County Water District is celebrating 60 years of delivering clean water to one of the fastest-growing regions in the state.

If you trace its roots, however, Newhall County Water District is really a 100-year-old entity.

As with many new California communities in the early 1900s, water proved to be a determining factor for a place that was, or would be, famous as the home of Six Flags Magic Mountain, the first gold discovery, an oil rush, a bustling movie and television location, a famous dam disaster and one of the safest cities in America.

The origins of the present-day water district begin in 1913 when the former Newhall Water Company was created. At that time, it used six underground wells to supply less than 300 people in the southernmost district of the Santa Clarita Valley.

The present-day Newhall County Water District was officially formed Jan. 13, 1953, by a vote of the people who decided it was in the best interest of the community to have a public agency operating the water system.

The private Newhall Water Company was sold for $130,000 and is now governed by five publicly elected directors accountable directly to the district’s customers.

Growth and Challenges

What began as a water system serving just a few hundred people now has grown to supplying more than 44,000 people over an area that encompasses approximately 34 square miles.

Along the way, water has grown into a complex and challenging endeavor — testing the creativity and experience of trained water system operators and administrators.

That’s why Newhall County Water District recently embarked on a unique "enterprise model" to guide its operations, which seems only fitting given the district was formed at the urging of business and civic leaders to use the best practices and ideas from business and combine them with best attributes — like accountability — of a public agency.

A few of the core strategies of Newhall County Water District’s unique enterprise model are outlined below.

Optimized technology

This model has led to the introduction of new, cost-effective technologies such as centralized computer monitoring of remote operations and the installation of radio-read metering.

A strategic investment in technology has enabled Newhall County Water District to reduce the labor force by more than 11 percent through attrition while accommodating a more than 35 percent increase in the number of customer accounts.

‘Pay-as-you-go’ financing

The enterprise model also is guiding a "pay-as-you-go" financing method to make improvements in the vast system of pipes, pumps, reservoirs and other infrastructure required to deliver fresh, clean water to Newhall County Water District customers, all without incurring more debt.

A cornerstone of this policy is to replace or improve systems and pipes in a pro-active way to maintain a reliable system. In addition, nearly three-fourths of Newhall County Water District’s employees are certified as water distribution and treatment operators, a level beyond what is required by government standards.

Shared health costs

Taking another page from private business, Newhall County Water District is reducing its long-term financial obligations by converting its health care benefits program for retirees from one paid for by the district entirely to a shared contribution program.

Entrepreneurial spirit

Driving the entrepreneurial spirit at Newhall County Water District is the board of directors. Most board members are business owners with professional training and experience ideally suited to find the most cost-effective and efficient use of public dollars.

With backgrounds in accounting, law, engineering, biology, health care and environmental compliance, they seek common-sense solutions.

While the district celebrates its past, we do so with our eyes on the future. Today, with our successful enterprise model in place, an entrepreneurial board of elected leaders and a family of local employees focused on customers, the Newhall County Water District is ideally positioned to remain an efficient, reliable provider of water for decades to come.

Maria Gutzeit is president of the Newhall County Water District Board of Directors and a Santa Clarita Valley resident.

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