Meet the Zone 7 Water Agency candidates

Election to decide who influences prices, water reliability for Tri-Valley wholesaler

The June 7 elections may be an important day for state and national seats, but this election will also decide who will have governing authority over the finances and policy controlling much of the Tri-Valley's water.

The Zone 7 Water Agency has three seats open for election. The trio of candidates who get the most votes will earn seats on the seven-member board of directors, which oversees the agency.

Zone 7 is the wholesale water retailer for the city of Pleasanton, the city of Livermore, Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) and Cal Water's Livermore division. The decisions the agency's board makes affects all of these cities' water costs and their access to state water.

While Zone 7 sells water to DSRSD, which then serves parts of San Ramon and Dublin, voters in San Ramon cannot cast ballots for Zone 7 board members because it is an Alameda County agency.

The board decides which projects -- including construction, maintenance and inter-agency projects -- to pursue to meet short- and long-term goals that balance the region's financial needs, water needs and environmental needs.

In addition, the agency is tasked with regional flood control, and the board is in charge of making sure Zone 7 is adequately prepared for floods in the Livermore and Amador Valleys by keeping finances in order and keeping staffing levels at appropriate levels.

Learn a little more about the seven candidates vying for three Zone 7 board seats this June:

Alfred Exner

Exner, a financial analyst from Pleasanton, moved to the Tri-Valley in 1977. Most recently, he was a senior financial analyst for Systron Donner, which manufactures products for navigational and aerospace applications, working his way up after serving in the Air Force and working in the finance and information technology industries.

Exner said his primary goal is to strengthen the board's financial knowledge and said he believes the current board is "very weak when it comes to financial matters." He also challenged for a Zone 7 board seat unsuccessfully two years ago.

He said his experience with agriculture comes largely from service with Future Farmers of America in high school. He has experience working with local municipalities by listening to city council meetings, Zone 7 meetings and local water roundtables, and he said he has used the information he learned at those meetings to educate friends, family and community members.

Sandy Figuers

Figuers, owner of a geology/engineering firm in Livermore, is a Zone 7 incumbent with nearly 20 years of board experience. He first served from 1988-2000 and then began his latest run on the board in 2008. He said he has more than 35 years of experience as a working geological engineer, 30 of which have been in the Tri-Valley.

"I have the technical background to understand the internal workings, driving forces and limitations of our water supply, groundwater basin and flood control operations," he said. "I am familiar with all facets of Zone 7 operations, including the budget, flood control, water supply, groundwater issues and relationships with our neighbors and customers (Pleasanton, Dublin, Livermore, Cal Water, farmers and vineyards)."

He said the board had to continue to pursue alternative water supplies, must find a long-term solution before the district reaches its water treatment supply capacity and must protect the aquifer against proposals to mine gravel at deeper levels, which he said could be damaging.

He said he served on the board with farm and vineyard owners, regularly works with municipalities as a board member and works the district's public education booth at the annual Alameda County Fair.

Victor Karpenko

Karpenko, a mechanical engineer from Livermore, said he's worked on complex national security projects and has lived in the Tri-Valley for at least 37 years.

In a recent TV30 forum, the Zone 7 challenger said he isn't sure he can support the state's Delta Fix proposal for large tunnels to draw water across the state. He said he believes the current cost is underestimated and could end up costing agencies such as Zone 7 more money than expected.

Karpenko said he believes the current board has been reworking their financial management and priorities but past practices, such as the Patterson Ranch purchase, have been questionable. He said it's important that when Zone 7 always picks the best equipment when they work on future projects. The agency is looking at spending about $20 million a year in capital improvement projects in a few years.

Dick Quigley

Quigley, a current Zone 7 board member and retired Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory senior logistics coordinator, said he supports the Delta Fix because the current state water project infrastructure -- which provides about 80% of the agency's water -- is too old to get water efficiently to the Tri-Valley.

Quigley, of Pleasanton, said he believes the expenses over the past few years are justified and the board "has been doing a good job" by deferring capital projects, implementing a hiring freeze and raising rates.

"We have depleted our reserves to -- in my opinion -- in some of our reserve funds to a rather dangerous level, but the board has been working on that," he said in a TV30 forum.

He was first elected to the board in 2008.

Angela Ramirez Holmes

Ramirez Holmes, a current Zone 7 board member and owner of a political consulting and public affairs firm, said she initially ran for the board to provide a "fresh perspective" after working for local legislators on state water policy.

"I will continue working for a safe and reliable water supply to meet the needs of residents and businesses, strong fiscal oversight, making flood control a priority, and increasing transparency and communication with the public," she said.

She said the drought taught the agency about the importance of water supply diversification and local storage, and she supports a regional study to determine if purified recycled water is feasible for the Tri-Valley.

She said she will continue to make sure vineyard owners "have a voice" in the agency's decisions, that she continues the relationships she's built with municipalities and will push for more public transparency and inter-agency cooperation. She has served on the board in 2012.

Eric Thiel

Thiel, an Amador Valley High School biology teacher, said the decisions the Zone 7 board makes create ecological systems in Livermore's Lake Del Valle and local streams, and he wants to make sure those decisions are environmentally sound.

"With the management of streams that provide flood control I believe there is an ethical responsibility to protect habitat and the wildlife that resides there whenever possible," he said.

Thiel said he would prioritize the agency's responsibility as a flood control district, take a proactive approach to water conservation in the Tri-Valley and work to establish a perspective "that wildlife is valued and should be protected whenever possible."

He said his experience with agriculture is limited, and he has no experience working with local municipalities. But he said his career for the past 22 years has been built on educating the public and his students on water supply issues.

"Students that leave my classroom are much more aware of the importance of proper management of our water resources. They in turn deliver the information to their families which has had a significantly positive impact on how water is utilized in the community," Thiel said.

Jacqueline Williams-Courtright

Williams-Courtright, owner of Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore who served on the Zone 7 board more than three decades ago, said she's spent the past few years educating people on how to manage their lawns during the drought.

She said she was moved to campaign for a seat due to the drought and the difficulties mandatory cutbacks have caused for the region's landscaping.

A Zone 7 board member from 1980-1984, she said Zone 7 needs to have a full understanding about the costs and benefits of the Delta Fix before investing more money.

In regard to regional water agencies' current study looking at whether purified recycled water could be used as another water source, she said she would prefer only using it for landscaping. She said the agency would especially need to look at various scientific sources before purified recycled water is injected into the aquifer.

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