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BEGINNING AT THE BEGINNING WITH THE COMMUNITY

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Abstract:

Siting a new facility in a neighborhood is always challenging for water agencies. But what if that neighborhood were in a relatively tranquil, non-urbanized area and the facility were sized to meet regional needs extending many miles away? To add a little more interest, what if the facility would come with lighting and noise that the neighbors chose to leave behind when they moved to the “country?” Now add a few chemical deliveries into the mix, and throw in construction traffic. Your water agency would face a host of community challenges beyond what is typically expected with facility siting.

The San Diego County Water Authority's proposal for a new water treatment facility that would treat up to 100 million gallons of water a day for residents and businesses throughout San Diego County faced all of these challenges and more. This paper will outline the Water Authority's approach to “beginning at the beginning” – gaining community support long before design and construction.

The Water Authority typically imports up to 90 percent of the water used in the county from a single water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. In the very near future, increased demands on MWD's treated water supplies threaten to leave some cities and water districts in San Diego County short of treated water. To prepare for this probable occurrence, the Water Authority proposed a site for a new regional facility in Twin Oaks Valley, a semirural community. The Water Authority owns the property, and the location has several other advantages – but the neighbors didn't necessarily see it that way.

Given the concerns that were voiced by community members before any work on the facility had begun, the Water Authority knew it would need to get the public involved in the project right from the beginning. The Water Authority's public affairs, environmental and engineering staff, and the community outreach consultant, Katz & Associates, began developing an approach that would allow community members to work with the project team to resolve concerns and help shape the project.

One of the key elements in the public outreach approach was that the public affairs representative established one-on-one contact with community members. Information materials and community presentations were developed through a team effort. But the key to involving the community and obtaining their feedback was a working group the Water Authority assembled, composed of residents living near the facility site, representatives of community organizations and a business representative.

This paper will outline the public outreach and involvement steps the Water Authority and its consultant have taken so that other agencies can develop similar programs if appropriate. While there may be some bumps in the road ahead, the Water Authority feels it is starting from a better place. One community member summed it up by saying, “I would like to personally thank the San Diego County Water Authority for the way it got the community involved early in the process… We all worked together to come up with a way to blend this into Twin Oaks Valley."

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2175/193864706783789770

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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