Courtesy photos
Jeremy DelMar, left, and Liz Olhsson.

Courtesy photos Jeremy DelMar, left, and Liz Olhsson.

Q&A: Lakehaven Water & Sewer District Pos. 5 commissioner candidates

Jeremy DelMar is facing Liz Olhsson.

The Federal Way Mirror asked Lakehaven Water & Sewer District commissioner candidates a few questions about their priorities and plans if elected. Read the Position 5 candidate responses below. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Jeremy DelMar

Brief description of yourself: My name is Jeremy DelMar and I am running for Lakehaven Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position No. 5. I am a lifelong resident of Washington and for the last 12 years have called South King County home with my wife, Coleen and our two children. I am a civil engineer and have worked providing communities clean, safe drinking water and reliable wastewater services for over 25 years. My career includes blue collar labor, design engineering, consulting, and utility operations all focused on improving water and sewer infrastructure. Since 2009, I have served in senior management at a regional water utility where I oversee engineering and operations. In early 2021, I was promoted to Assistant General Manager, where I focus on asset management, capital investment, strategic planning, and policy development. I am a licensed Professional Engineer and hold a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Washington State University and an Executive Master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Washington. I describe myself as a pragmatic, non-partisan. I like to listen and understand all sides of a position before rendering a decision. This approach allows for robust dialogue of varying viewpoints and ultimately creates better policy.

Top three priorities if elected:

1. Ensure Customers receive Exceptional Service at Low and Affordable Rates – It is easy for public agencies to become inefficient because they are the only game in town. Customers should always be treated like the utility is competing for your business. Rate strategies must be developed to prevent sudden spikes and needs must be adequately justified before rates are increased. As a fellow customer, just like you, I have a vested interest in a well-run, well- managed utility.

2. Prioritize and Implement Capital Improvements – Postponing needed improvements for temporary benefit creates a less reliable utility and causes the need for rate increases when infrastructure begins to fail. We must fully fund capital improvements. As a utility manager in asset management, I will prioritize and implement capital improvements with the goal to create a reliable and sustainable utility.

3. COVID-19 and Overdue Utility Bills – Agencies have developed policies to assist those struggling to pay their bills. Utilities are offering no-cost extended payment arrangements, grants, waiving fees and directing customers to non-profit organizations who provide monetary assistance. Unfortunately, many customers are not responding. Lakehaven must promote these resources with a robust outreach program to connect those who struggle with the organizations ready to help.

Why are you running for Lakehaven Water and Sewer District Board of Commissioners?

In college, I took a class in water resource management and ever since have devoted my entire professional career to the utility industry. Few career paths afford an opportunity to provide an essential service that everyone on the planet needs to survive. Most people who work for water utilities have a deep connection with these services. They know that clean, safe drinking water cannot ever stop pumping because our entire society depends on it. I believe public service is the best way to improve our society for future generations and view this commissioner position as an opportunity to serve and support our local community. Over the years, I have gained valuable knowledge and experience and recognize the challenges facing Lakehaven are the same challenges I work to resolve daily. Leveraging this experience to help our utility is the most effective way I can serve. I have no aspirations for higher office or be involved in partisanship; only to move our community forward the best way I can while serving only you, the Lakehaven customer.

What do you see as the most pressing issue impacting the District and what do you intend to do about it?

The most pressing issue facing Lakehaven is the recent Nutrient Discharge Permit issued by Department of Ecology. The new regulation limits the amount of nitrogen in wastewater that can be discharged into Puget Sound. Many estimate the rule will triple sewer rates, as existing facilities will need major upgrades or must reduce capacity to meet the new regulatory goals. We must protect Puget Sound and reduce our environmental impact, but with limited financial resources, all investments must maximize water quality outcomes. We cannot overburden customers, especially those who can least afford it. Lakehaven must promote pretreatment source control programs, so the highest nutrient contributors fund their equitable portion for treatment. We also need a regional approach to reducing nutrients. Rather than one agency focusing on upgrading a facility that provides marginal environmental improvement, I propose teaming with other agencies to invest collectively in the most deficient systems. For example, if it takes $100M to improve a Lakehaven facility but another purveyor can achieve greater outcomes for only $20M, agencies should work across boundaries and invest in projects that provide the greatest benefit to Puget Sound. This will achieve greater environmental outcomes faster, and for a lower cost to customers.

How will you work to uphold Lakehaven’s supply of safe and clean water to residents of the District at a reasonable cost?

Conservation is the best way to ensure adequate water supply and keep costs reasonable as it reduces the need to expand existing infrastructure to accommodate growth. Because of conservation efforts, our regional water use continues to decline even with increased population and creates a climate resistant utility able to meet forecasted demand for the next 50+ years. Lakehaven is fortunate to have robust water sources, unlike California or eastern Washington, where severe drought has plagued agriculture and development requiring extremely expensive source alternatives like wastewater recycling for irrigation. I support and participate in efforts like the Saving Water Partnership (SWP), a coalition of water purveyors throughout the Seattle region who promotes conservation through technical assistance, rebates, and educational programs. While generally unknown to the public, efforts like the SWP have reduced overall water consumption in the Seattle region to what it was in the late 1950s though the population has doubled in the same period. Conservation has also created a market among local utilities, including Lakehaven, to sell excess wholesale water to other purveyors to generate additional revenue. Excess water sales benefit customers by reducing the need for future rate increases and provides additional funds for capital investment.

What areas of the District’s budget do you believe are unacceptable to face budget cuts and why?

What is not commonly understood by the public is that Lakehaven is your utility. You own it! By casting your vote for the Board of Commissioners, you choose who represents your interests in running the utility. Board decisions directly impact your wallet and the reliability of your utility service. It is essential the members of the elected body make wise decisions in the matters facing water and sewer utilities. Otherwise, the reliability and affordability of your service will suffer. Reducing capital investments is an unwise and unacceptable solution to save money. It is a short-sighted approach to controlling costs and creates greater risk to the utility and financial liability for its customers. Many utilities across the nation take this approach to save money. It is a fundamental principle of asset management that the preferred and lowest cost solution is to invest and maintain an existing facility in perpetuity than neglect it and run it to failure. Just like a car, postponing needed maintenance, like changing the oil, results in higher expenses like replacing the engine. Routine reinvestment through construction is the best way to maintain aging infrastructure and improve the long-term reliability and sustainability of the system.

Liz Olhsson

Brief description of yourself: I am proud to be a product of Pacific Northwest public schools, kindergarten through doctorate. I’m an experienced climate scientist with a PhD in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, and a focus on computer models of coastal oceans, rivers, and watersheds. As a problem solving enthusiast, I support my family as an IT systems engineer and project manager, building creative technical solutions to business problems, and have implemented them for everyone from small locally-owned businesses to multinational corporations. As a queer Jewish woman, I am committed to the principle of Tikkun Olam: “healing the world.” I hope to localize that ideal together with the community as Lakehaven Water and Sewer District Commissioner Position 5, by helping to chart a path forward into the rapidly changing future of South King County’s climate — a path that centers environmental justice every step along the way, beginning with the principle of universal access to water and sanitation.

Top three priorities if elected:

1. Extend the statewide covid moratorium on utility shutoffs until our community has recovered from the pandemic, as a first step towards universal access to water and sewer in our region.

2. Incorporating climate change in all of our water and sewer infrastructure and fiscal planning, because it is the ultimate public health crisis if we don’t get it right.

3. Lakehaven’s relationship with its customers needs to become more meaningful than ‘bill collector’. In the end some water conservation and anti-pollution efforts do have to come from our individual contributions, and that only happens if we can get people invested and engaged with taking care of the water and land that we’re on. We also need to center traditionally marginalized voices, including those from Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, who are disproportionately impacted by the Board’s decisions. We should be making it worth their time to come to board meetings and make them feel heard by sending representatives to organizations like Front and Centered, the Federal Way Black Collective, and more. The goal is for Lakehaven to engage, rather than inform, the people that it serves. To reach out before big decisions are made, rather than announcing them after.

Why are you running for the Lakehaven Water & Sewer District Board of Commissioners?

I’m running to champion the following principles for the Lakehaven community: First and foremost, water rights are human rights. Water rights are civil rights. In a modern and moral society, everyone should have access to clean, safe water and sewer. We must also take local action on climate change immediately. As a climate scientist with a PhD in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, I believe that our ordinary lives, and those of our children and grandchildren, critically depend on how Lakehaven manages our water into the future. We have the power to plan infrastructure around the local and specific climate impacts that our watershed will face, with the needs of the most vulnerable in our community at the forefront. Additionally, as a local employer, Lakehaven’s board should be as pro-worker, pro-union, and pro-workplace-diversity as possible. The Lakehaven community and the board it elects has the power to take on these pressing challenges. Failure to provide water and sewer to everyone doesn’t mean they stop drinking and need a toilet; it just creates more problems to solve later. Pay now or pay later, we will pay regardless. We should be investing in the most modern and moral society we can afford.

What do you see as the most pressing issue impacting the District, and what do you intend to do about it?

Climate change is the greatest threat to public health, safety, and stability that we face at Lakehaven. Our watershed will face bigger winter storms and floods, longer summer droughts, deadly heat waves, and many new neighbors joining us because it’s even worse where they came from.

Right now any investment in making our water supply more diverse and resilient is both economically savvy and eventually life-saving, so it’s time to hold nothing back. We should be looking into rainwater collection, groundwater recharge, beefing up our storm drains, and community water conservation education to help make sure we’re not wasting what water we have. If it turns out that we have more water than we need in future decades, we’ll be able to sell it to help keep rates low.

That means recycling our wastewater instead of dumping it into the Puget Sound. It means getting serious about storm planning; we’ve all seen what flooding events are like around the country now, and sooner or later that will happen here. We don’t have to let our water and sewer systems be overwhelmed by a storm or a drought or a heat wave; all we have to do is plan for them.

How will you work to uphold Lakehaven’s supply of safe and clean water to residents of the district at a reasonable cost?

This century water will replace oil as the most vital and limited resource in the world. In the mid- to long-term, there will certainly be a market to sell excess Lakehaven water to less fortunate districts. Harvesting it effectively will ultimately be the most important cost-saving measure we take.

Building that future, however, requires measured up-front investment. We must balance our long-term strategic planning against the immediate needs of our community to be able to pay their bills. In other words, while environmental science is important, it also isn’t enough; without environmental justice, vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by climate change will be left behind. By aggressively pursuing new state and federal resources available for infrastructure transition, we will ensure that no money is left on the table.

When it comes to the safety of our water, we must go above and beyond to ensure that whatever we put into our bodies and the environment is as safe and harmless as possible. The time for barely meeting the minimum state and federal requirements for monitoring and removing contaminants is over. Lakehaven’s culture must shift to view environmental regulations not as obstacles to overcome, but as public health goals to exceed.

What areas of the District’s budget do you believe are unacceptable to face budget cuts and why?

Ultimately the most important duty of the District is to provide clean, safe water to everyone; that means that cost-saving measures around water treatment are unacceptable. While efficiencies are possible through collaboration across regional water authorities and with technological improvements, we should constantly be striving to improve our water quality measures rather than settling for less.

As officials elected by Lakehaven’s 100,000+ customers, of course commissioners represent them, but I also think we have a responsibility to ensure that Lakehaven treats its 110+ workers well, and cuts to Labor should also be off the table. Honestly I think there isn’t really a separation in priorities here, because a high-retention workforce creates the biggest bang for our customers’ bucks.

Accordingly, Lakehaven Board policy should be pro-worker, pro-union, and pro-workplace-diversity. We should be partnering with our workers and their unions to set up Labor Harmony Agreements. To address Lakehaven’s aging workforce problem we should be creating Community Workforce Agreements to ensure the best jobs possible for our community so that the next generation of engineers and specialists for our District can come from a pathway through our local schools. For more information, please visit our website at www.lizolhsson.com!

Editor’s note: This story was abridged for print. Read more of these candidates’ answers online at federalwaymirror.com


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