by Karen Brainard
Providing drinking water to the Cedar Creek Falls Trailhead is not a simple process, as it involves many governmental agencies, according to Ramona Municipal Water District General Manager Ralph McIntosh.
An agreement for water has been developed, and the different water agencies are waiting for the U.S. Forest Service to approve it, he said.
The Cedar Creek Falls trailhead and trail was temporarily closed on July 8 by the U.S. Forest Service after representatives from law enforcement and government agencies demanded a better managment plan for the trail. That came after a July 4th weekend with eight helicopter rescues, and a July 6 fatality at the falls.
Both the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and CalFire have reported numerous hikers suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion in addition to injuries.
Although drinking water was supposed to be included in the trailhead improvements at the end of Thornbush Road, the forest service has indicated it does not know when water will be available.
Some Ramonans have questioned whether the water availability is up to the Ramona Municipal Water District.
Steve Venolia, a San Diego Country Estates homeowner who lives near the trailhead, asked the water board at its July 12 meeting to work with the forest service to bring water to the trail.
“Right now one of the issues is hikers that show up and don’t have enough water,” Venolia said.
McIntosh told the Sentinel that the U.S. Forest Service land is outside of the Ramona water district boundaries. McIntosh said the forest service was given two options: to annex to the district, which could be costly, or to work on an inter-agency agreement.
The forest service chose the latter, which involved the Ramona water district, the San Diego County Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water Authority, said McIntosh.
The three water agencies approved the language in the agreement and gave it to the forest service on April 29, he said.
“It’s not really in the Ramona water district’s lap. It’s really in the U.S. Forest Service’s lap,” said McIntosh, adding, “They’ve been sitting on it until recently.”
At issue with the forest service is the indemnification language that would protect the water agencies from liability, said McIntosh.
Once the forest service approves the agreement, it has to be signed by the board of directors for the Metropolitan Water District, the county water authority and the Ramona water district. After that, it goes to LAFCO (California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions), said McIntosh.
“They have to approve as well,” he said. All those approvals could take another six to nine months, he added.
The water, to be paid for by the forest service, would be made available at the comfort station, which is already at the trailhead, said McIntosh.