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Carmichael Times

Water District Merger Voted Down

Apr 02, 2024 09:19AM ● By Susan Skinner and Tamara Warta
Carmichael Creek Neighborhood Association activists Jim and Mary Christian display one of dozens of street signs that helped rally opposition to a proposed merger between Carmichael and Sacramento Suburban Water districts. 

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - In a conclusion that brought a standing audience ovation at a special Carmichael Water District meeting on March 26, Carmichael Water District directors voted to end a program exploring a merger with Sacramento Suburban Water District.

Passed by a 4-1 majority, the motion decided that the agency would "cease negotiations to stop the consolidation process with Sacramento Suburban Water District." So ended two-plus years of costly studies, meetings and public outreach.

More than 140 merger opponents cheered the decision. The directors' vote followed 70 minutes of individual presentations. Speakers included representatives of neighborhood organizations, the business community and unionized water district staff. By far, the loudest voice was from residents, two of whom said they moved to Carmichael because of local water quality.

One of few merger supporters was Sacramento Suburban Water District director Craig Locke, who said that Carmichael would benefit from Suburban's 80 wells in times of drought; that two combined districts would better preserve agency resources and together, benefit from greater political lobbying power.

In the end, board director Ron Greenwood’s suggestion to end the merger process was met with applause, whistles and foot-stomping.  

A second public gathering in one week, the March 26 forum was a final opportunity for Carmichael Water District directors to hear the public voice before voting on the merger’s future. During that week, signs of opposition dotted neighborhoods and did much to bolster the meeting room crowd. Those who arrived late waited in a long line for admission. After all seats were filled, 40 residents stood against walls and in the lobby.

Carmichael Water District has faced resident and staff opposition since the consolidation proposition was tabled last year.

At the time, Carmichael Water District General Manager Cathy Lee laid out a five-step plan for the merger, citing logistical and political benefits for its execution.

In the interim, many residents voiced concerns. These included protecting Carmichael’s soft water quality and comparatively low water rates. Sacramento Suburban Water District’s debt (that might become a shared burden for Carmichael customers) was a thorny issue.

Possible contamination of ground water from the now-shuttered McClellan Air Force Base was another worry.

Residents also asked how two water districts could smoothly unite and how staff would be affected.

The fate of Carmichael Water District’s Fair Oaks Boulevard offices was questioned. Some residents feared their easy communication with a smaller agency would no longer exist. At both March town halls, audience presentations lasted for more than an hour.

 One resident noted that Carmichael Water District directors work for the community. “We don't work for them,” he contended. “We have due diligence to ask tough questions and they should be answering those tough questions."

Rising to the microphone, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees expressed solidarity with the community.

“We do not support a merger, consolidation, or any combination thereof,” said federation spokeswoman Tina Acree. "The Carmichael community would lose their voice with only two seats [on a combined-district board]. This decision should not be taken so lightly. We want to maintain the quality of water in this community and anything short of that is not acceptable."

Carmichael Water District Board member Jeff Nelson, an engineer, spoke for consolidation.

"I believe in climate change,” Nelson said. “We’re going to see more severe weather changes. The merger will give us more flexibility to provide you with water. Our mission statement is to provide you the highest quality of water at the lowest price.”

Nelson said that Sacramento Suburban Water District employed specialized staff with skills that Carmichael Water District currently outsourced and consolidation would create more staff opportunities. Nelson asked for more time to continue the merger possibility. 

Two hours into the meeting, board Director Ron Greenwood made a motion to end negotiations and cancel the merger. After some discussion, the five-member board voted. Nelson voiced the only nay.

Attendees broke ranks to mob directors with handshakes. Carmichaelites left the meeting with jubilation and congratulations continued in the parking lot.

“Never let it be said you can't make a difference,” said Carmichael Creek Neighborhood Association activist Jim Christian.  “This vote will benefit and protect those who live in Carmichael for generations to come.

“For those who got involved, when you see a Carmichael water truck go by, you can say ‘I helped keep those guys here.’ So be proud Carmichael! That's what a good community does,” Christian said. “They look out for each other. I also should add that there's no disrespect to Sacramento Suburban Water District. We just want Carmichael to remain as it has always been and we want to drink Carmichael water.”