Art Jensen, recently retired general manager for the Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency, sat down with Brown and Caldwell Senior Vice President Cindy Paulson to talk about his agency's keen focus on results, negotiating with the City of San Francisco on behalf of BAWSCA's 1.7 million customers and plans for the third act of his life.

JANUARY 21, 2014

Given all the stakeholders and agendas in California water resource management today, how do you think we can take the biggest steps forward together?
By having clear objectives and focusing on getting results. Getting results is not possible when the conversation is reduced to positions and sound bites. If the participants can articulate what they want and why, and avoid communicating in sound bites it's amazing what can be accomplished. Our work with San Francisco and our 26 member agencies demonstrates that vital change is possible prior to, rather than in reaction to, an earthquake, drought or other catastrophe. That said, I am one of those who fear that significant changes to managing the state's water resources will only occur following a major disaster.

BAWSCA is a pretty unique agency. Tell us about it.
Well we've only been a public agency for a decade. Our roots go back to the late 1950s as a voluntary association, but in 2002 we went to the Legislature and they passed a bill enabling the creation of the agency. The 26 public agencies that had contracts to buy water from the City and County of San Francisco voted to create and to become members of the new organization. BAWSCA is a multi-county special district, not a joint powers authority. It has the authority to issue bonds, acquire water rights, build and operate facilities and sell water. The 26-member Board of Directors acts as an independent regional body.

While it is a small organization, we punch above our weight. We remain focused on getting long-lasting results and avoid getting distracted by tangential issues.

Another way BAWSCA is unique is that it is the only agency I know that forms a work plan and budget from scratch each year; what specific results are to be achieved and what resources are needed to produce those results. And we manage the scope of work and budget just as you would if you were running a business.

What are BAWSCA's greatest accomplishments in your view?
I think the greatest accomplishment is remaining a results-oriented organization, achieving results consistent with the agency's goals — for the water customers for the residents and businesses that pay their water bills.

This last June, we put out a brochure acknowledging our first 10 years and BAWSCA's 10 most significant achievements. One of them is negotiating the 2009 Water Supply Agreement with the City and County of San Francisco on behalf of the 26 member agencies. The result included greater definition on services to be provided and a restructuring of how the agencies repay San Francisco for capital investments. This is significant because they use two-thirds of the water and pay two-thirds of the costs of the regional water system. This year BAWSCA issued $335 million of bonds to prepay capital debt owed to San Francisco. This unique bond sale will save water customers $62 million over the next 21 years. BAWSCA achieved the same high bond rating as San Francisco. This achievement is remarkable because BAWSCA does not own a single pipe, and does not deliver a single drop of water.

Another accomplishment has been to maintain the integrity of the organization with the public, the media and with the Board of Directors. The board meets every other month, relies on the judgment and actions of the CEO, and we work hard to maintain their trust and support.

So what do you see as the greatest challenges for BAWSCA going forward?
Our goals are simple: Reliable supply of high-quality water at a fair price. Nicole Sandkulla, the new CEO, has clarified those will continue to be the agency's goals.

The challenge facing BAWSCA and its member agencies is that it cannot be assumed that San Francisco, as a wholesale water supplier, will meet their water needs. The agreement with San Francisco includes perpetual access to a specified amount of water, but contains no commitment to meet future needs beyond that amount. The agreement states that during droughts San Francisco will use its best efforts to meet a goal of not more than 20 percent system-wide shortage in any year of the design drought. San Francisco's economic studies demonstrate that a 20 percent drought shortage can have a multibillion-dollar impact per year to the service area. BAWSCA is conducting a multimillion-dollar study to figure out how future water needs can be met.

BAWSCA is developing solutions to this problem because its member agencies can't afford to find out too late that sufficient, reliable supplies will not be provided by San Francisco.

It seems that regional partnerships are going to be more and more important in California water. What would you say are the keys to success for BAWSCA's partnership with the SFPUC?
I don't believe that the relationship is a "partnership." The relationship between San Francisco and its wholesale customers is by contractual agreement. As in any good agreement, there are conditions that both parties have to meet and there are consequences if they don't. Often, when people speak of partnerships they are thinking about collaboration and cooperation. Those can be fruitful activities, but they do not require either party to produce results. You get results when you have an enforceable agreement. That's a sound approach for private business, and it's a sound approach for the public's business. You can't assume people are going to do things because you think they should. That's not a good assumption in any relationship, whether it's a business relationship, a friendship or even a marriage.

What is something people might be surprised to learn about BAWSCA?
I think they'd be surprised to learn of BAWSCA's role, through state legislation, in getting San Francisco to adopt and implement the Water System Improvement Program, and the ongoing state oversight that legislation provides. San Francisco has done a great job of making the WSIP a success. Julie Labonte has done a magnificent job of managing this challenging program. BAWSCA will continue its constructive review, input and oversight of capital improvements to the regional water system long after the WSIP is completed.

You recently retired after doing a lot of great things in your career. What advice would you pass along?
Two things: focus on getting results, and maintain your integrity. Integrity is something you have to earn every day and you can't get it back once you lose it.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I'd have to say getting to make a difference for the San Francisco water system as an employee of the City of San Francisco, as an employee of BAWSCA and as an employee of Brown and Caldwell. It's been a good ride.

What's next for you?
First of all, just taking a beat. Just nothing for a few months. Then I expect to do some teaching and consulting. I plan to spend more time with things I enjoy: family, friends, music and photography.

What's on your reading list, now that you're going to have all this spare time?
Some books on country music harmonica and the blues. A fascinating book called The Buddha Walks into a Bar. I just finished The Boys in the Boat, about the 1936 eight-man crew from the University of Washington. It's a great book and it's not about rowing. It's about life.

 


Name: Arthur Jensen

Title: General Manager (retired), Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency, which is made up of 26 utilities that purchase water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for resale to their local service areas.

Background: In 1995, Art joined the Bay Area Water Users Association (BAWUA), BAWSCA's predecessor organization. Before that, he served for five years with the Contra Costa Water District, involved in the areas of planning and engineering. Earlier in his career, working as a consultant for Brown and Caldwell, Art performed planning studies for the SFPUC's regional water supply, treatment and delivery system.

Later on and for a period of more than six years, he served as Deputy and Acting General Manager of the San Francisco Water Department.

BAWSCA represents its members' collective interests in their relationship with the SFPUC on matters related to water supply, facility reliability, operations, water quality and wholesale water rates.

Art has an advanced degree in Environmental Engineering Science from Caltech, and has taught courses in water resources at Stanford and UC Berkeley.


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