Wm. “Bill” Ekwall is the only non-incumbent running for one of the three contested seats for the Board of Directors of the Scotts Valley Water District in the November election. With three incumbents seeking re-election, Ekwall is running as the only “outsider” to the existing board, in his first bid for an elected office his campaign is mostly as a concerned customer, concerned about previously approved rate hikes and concerned about adequate water supply in the event of a catastrophic wildfire.
“I want to make sure the changes coming to Scotts Valley are not overstepping what we have to deal with- water wise-that is, can our existing infrastructure handle it?-and do we have the water capacity to fight fires? Everybody I talk to is a little upset about growth, and if the aquifer goes dry, it’s going to effect the whole city,” Ekwall said.
Retiring four years ago after a 30-year career as a firefighter and paramedic for the Santa Clara County Fire Department, Ekwall is particularly concerned about adequate water supply to fight fires. Ekwall said that during the drought tanks and wells went dry up along the summit area and water needed to be trucked in to fight fires, and this got him concerned about water supply. Ekwall mentioned the fires in Redding and Santa Rosa as examples of the need to be ready.
Ekwall explained he got interested in the business of the water district about three or four years ago, and one issue he advocated for was customer access to the “purple pipe” recycled water that was available to larger commercial developments for landscaping-but not regular homeowners. Ekwall takes some credit for getting the “Recycled Water Fill Station” established across from the Scotts Valley Senior Center -making free recycled water available to Scotts Valley customers.
Ekwall was also involved in protesting the rate hike the current board approved in the later part of 2016, which includes incremental rate hikes in the basic meter charge of about 10 percent, roughly about $10, at the end of each year, up to the end of 2020. This protest by some ratepayers was ultimately unsuccessful, but Ekwall continues to believe the increases in basic meter charges to $91.76 at the end of 2020 might be particularly difficult for low-income seniors on fixed incomes. Ekwall said he thought the board should be open to revisiting and reevaluating theses previously approved rate hikes, at least for basic meter charges.
Ekwall acknowledged the district's declining revenues through the recent drought, in which customers were very responsive to the need for water conservation and efficient use, which decreased net sales revenues by almost 20 percent between 2014 and 2016. But Ekwall continues to question if the proposed rate hikes are necessary in the coming two years.
In a general discussion of about growth in Scotts Valley, Ekwall is more concerned about the condition and overall capacity of the existing infrastructure, the actual pumps, pipes and tanks, to handle the proposed growth in Scott Valley than the supply of water from the Santa Margarita aquifer. “I’m not against all growth”, Ekwall wrote in a statement, “Just make it slow. We only have so much water in the ground. We do not have ‘back-up’”, Ekwall wrote.
“We’re going to overtax the system if we keep building high rise hotels. We have to make sure - the tanks and the wells are in good shape before we add another 1,000 meters to the system. With all this building the pumps are going to be running longer, putting pressure on existing infrastructure, and I’m concerned if we can handle it,” Ekwall said.
Ekwall is not that excited about the Town Center Project. “I know its coming…I think it’s one of those things that will increase traffic and burden the water infrastructure. My question is, do we have enough water? The existing board says we do, but do we have enough to fight fires? I sure hope so, and the next question is, can our treatment plant handle the increased flow? I hope so,” Ekwall said.
Ekwall, 67, was born and raised in San Jose and moved to Scotts Valley in 1977. Ekwall is married and has six grandchildren. In addition to an A.A. degree in Fire Science from San Jose City College, Ekwall also obtained a State Contractor’s License and a State Paramedic license. Ekwall is also a member of the Santa Cruz Elks and Moose Lodge. “The drought proved we are in an arid climate, and it’s not like it has been in the past,” Ekwall said. “I will always maintain a slower growth policy for our smaller community. I believe it is time for change and I will fulfill that,” Ekwall wrote in a campaign statement.