El Dorado Irrigation District Division 5 Director Harry Norris said a “big fallacy” out there is that “the district’s spending is out of control.”
Norris recently defended the current board’s policies over the past several years to cut costs and streamline services. More than $7 million has been cut from the budget and nearly 35 percent of EID’s employees have been laid off, dropping the total from 305 to 224 since 2008, Norris explained.
The downsizing was prompted by a combination of the general economy and determining that some functions were no longer needed. He acknowledged that EID may have had some extra fat but was not significantly overstaffed under his watch.
Two basic issues draw Norris to want to run for another four-year term. First, he said he wants to protect and advance a number of projects and directions the board has embarked on during the past term.
“I don’t want to see the district go backward with respect to infrastructure. We’ve made a lot of information technology improvements and modernized the systems,” he said. “Operations and policies are not so rate-centric now.”
Of equal concern is the ongoing effort to secure water rights and to actually get the water contracted through earlier water rights agreements. The district has rights to about 17,000 acre-feet of water that can be pumped out of Folsom Lake. That water originates in high country reservoirs including Caples Lake, Silver Lake and the South Fork American River watershed.
Several environmental issues have hampered the district’s access to portions of that allocation, Norris said, adding that he believes Congressman Tom McClintock “is on board to help us get that water out of Folsom.”
Securing those and other water rights, Norris called a “very big deal.”
Norris emphasized operational efficiency as a priority for the district and noted the plan to raise the dam at the Forebay reservoir in Pollock Pines. By adding about 4 feet to the height of the dam, the facility will “generate more power and more than double the backup water” that would be available in low-rainfall years. The Forebay dam project would cost about $10 million and is part of the district’s Capital Improvement Plan, he said.
Norris anticipates that water and sewer rates in the district will increase by roughly 5 percent annually over the next several years. He favors incremental increases over something like a 30 percent rise after five years. Increases are necessary to help the district “get caught up on Capital Improvement Projects,” he said.
One exception to the modest increases, he noted, is the recreational turf rate. That is the rate paid by public and non-profit entities for watering large expanses of grass such as ball fields.
“The recreational turf rate is going up a lot,” Norris said. “It will affect schools, community service districts, public parks, homeowners’ associations and about nine churches. And it could raise the rate by about 80 percent in some cases.”
After three terms as an EID director, Norris said his knowledge and familiarity with the issues are important in ensuring consistency and continuity for the district.
“This is very, very complicated from an operational standpoint, but we compare very well to other comparable districts,” he said.
Norris worked for more than 10 years in marketing and sales in the oil industry and later owned several gas stations, notably the Union 76 station in El Dorado Hills for about 25 years. His campaign literature notes that as a platoon leader with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, Norris was twice awarded the Bronze Star for heroism in combat during his service in Vietnam in 1969.