The Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors unanimously voted to rescind a planned 6.7% water rate increase at its June 17 meeting.

The board declared a rate freeze would give businesses more time to develop financial recovery strategies, while helping to keep costs down for residents who have become unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zone 7 reviewed fiscal years 2019/20 to 2021/22 in regard to water rates, with the intent to give the Valley’s water retailers sufficient time to budget and order water from the agency. Zone 7’s fiscal year ends on June 30, but new rates begin on Jan. 1, at the start of the calendar year.

A 25% vacancy level in staff employment enabled the rate freeze. General Manager Valerie Pryor explained that the agency is trying to fill those positions, “but it has been slow going.” The vacancy rate has been high for a year. Before the pandemic, Zone 7 assumed it was due to the booming Bay Area economy and extremely low unemployment rate, said Pryor.

“Now, we assume there is some crisis uncertainty,” she said. “Hopefully, hiring will pick up this year.”

The board also voted to freeze the rates for untreated water, which was going to be the subject of future stakeholder meetings. A study had recommended a significant rate increase for this agricultural water, but winegrowers objected because it would put more price pressure on them. They already compete against growers in the northern part of the state, where it rains more, which keeps those growers’ production prices down, reported the Livermore winegrowers.

The board last year granted only a slight increase and promised stakeholder meetings with growers and other interested parties to arrive at a solution.

On the other side of the issue, urban Valley residents asked why they should subsidize agriculture. With the rate hike suspension, staff stated there will be more time for the dialogue in 2021.

Board Wishes Quigley Happy Trails

The June 17 meeting marked the last for Director Dick Quigley, who has served 16 years. A new director, Laurene Green, will be sworn in early in July.

Beyond voting for a written resolution listing all the board committees on which Quigley served, directors paid their own tributes to him.

President Sandy Figuers, who started on the board in 2008, said it took Quigley a couple years to find his voice.

“He turned into an ambassador for the board at all kinds of meetings – state, local and national,” Figuers added.

Dennis Gambs, board member, thanked Quigley for “really ramping up the game.”

“He has been a champion of solar power for the Del Valle Water Treatment plant,” he said. “I’m going to miss Dick on the trails.”

Director Angela Ramirez Holmes reported Quigley to be the “go-to on the board for solar power, trails along the Zone 7 arroyos and a strong voice for transparency, an issue she also has pushed since joining the board eight years ago.”

Recognizing Quigley’s pioneering leadership in trail creation, Ramirez Holmes wished him happy trails. Director Michelle Smith McDonald noted that serving the community for 16 years and putting his name on the ballot many times “is truly admirable.”

Quigley acknowledged his leadership role in helping create, through grant applications and coordination, a network among the Valley’s three cities and along Zone 7 land.

Board members are currently looking into options for naming a segment of the trail that connects to Zone 7 territory the “Dick Quigley Trail.”