Current directors Dennis Gambs, Sarah Palmer and Olivia Sanwong won re-election and challenger Dawn Benson took the fourth position available in the June 7 primary for the Zone 7 Water Agency Board of Directors.
Three incumbents and two newcomers were vying for election to the Tri-Valley board during an important time with drought season in full swing. The four seats up for grabs represented a majority of the seven-member board.
Palmer will be serving a fifth term while fellow incumbents Gambs and Sanwong are going into their second term. Benson, who will be coming on for his first time, previously sat as an elected member of the Dublin San Ramon Services District Board of Directors.
Gambs led the way with 26.95% of the vote, followed by Palmer at 22.56%, Sanwong at 22.48% and Benson at 21.78%, with some small percentage of votes left to tabulate as of Wednesday evening.
Todd Shinohara, a pharmacist from Dublin who did not seem to run an active campaign, was the fifth candidate but because of a low vote count of 6.23%, he told the Weekly that he was conceding the race days after the election saying that he believed "the voters have chosen the direction they want to take."
Zone 7 is the wholesale water retailer for the cities of Pleasanton and Livermore, Cal Water's Livermore division, and DSRSD serving Dublin and San Ramon's Dougherty Valley. The agency's board makes decisions regarding the four communities' water costs, as Zone 7 prices largely determine the rates local water service providers charge customers in their jurisdiction.
The agency is also tasked with providing flood protection in the Livermore and Amador valleys.
Benson will effectively replace current Director Michelle Smith McDonald of Dublin who opted not to run for election. Smith McDonald has been on the board since being appointed in May 2019.
"I'm happy to share how happy I am to join the Zone 7 board," Benson told the Weekly. "We have lots of work to do with the drought, water supply, conservation, quality and storage, and the EIR for the Delta Conveyance, which is expected out this summer."
Incumbent Gambs shared similar gratitude to his re-election team and supporters who voted for him and said he is excited to take on the challenge of making the Tri-Valley's water supply drought resistant.
"Zone 7 is now participating in the Sites Reservoir and Los Vaqueros Expansion Projects, which would provide much needed storage that is particularly important due to the loss of Sierra snowpack storage and extreme storms caused by climate change," Gambs said. "Development of the Chain of Lakes for near term use with a pipeline connection to the Del Valle Water Treatment Plant will also provide storage and groundwater recharge."
Returning incumbent Sanwong said she was grateful for the voters who helped her in her re-election but was disappointed in the low voter turnout and lack of civic engagement.
"We face so many important issues right now," Sanwong told the Weekly. "The best action an individual can take is to vote in every election and make an effort to understand each item on the ballot. So many people do not have the ability to vote in a free and fair election. We do."
She also added a few points on people making more of an effort to conserve water this summer by doing things like fixing water leaks, reducing outdoor irrigation and taking shorter showers.
"I recognize that many of us are feeling crisis fatigue," Sanwong said. "However, if we don't make an effort to meet our conservation goals this summer, and if this megadrought continues, 2023 could be one of our most challenging summers water-wise."
She said the board will need to ensure there is enough water supply to stop wildfires and strict water conservation measures will be triggered when the water supply is reduced to establish a healthy and safety threshold.
Director Palmer said she feels good about this incoming team of board directors but that there are many challenges ahead that will require dedication and knowledge on the part of the Zone 7 board.
"We are not just 'in a drought.' We are in a dry climate with periods of rain," Palmer said. "We face issues of water quality and reliability that will require both study and practicality. The Zone 7 staff and board will work to manage these realities in ways that best serve our Tri-Valley for people, agriculture and habitats."