On Monday, I went to the funeral of a good friend. I first met Ina Roth in her role as a member of the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in the 1980s. She was the representative from Beverly Hills and I was in charge of the Water Quality Division at MWD. In my position, I was always under scrutiny from the 51 members of MWD’s Board. But Ina was different. She did not passively accept what staff members presented at important committee meetings, nor was she hypercritical in public when controversial topics were under discussion. She asked questions. From those questions, it became clear that she was really smart, she knew a lot about setting water policy and she was interested in getting things done and not promoting herself. My respect for her grew as staff and Board struggled to deal with the inevitable problems facing a huge regional water agency.
During this period, I was promoted to Director of the Water Quality Division. The Board created a new Water Quality Committee and appointed her Chair. She then took it upon herself to be my mentor and help me deal with the tough Board politics at MWD. She was also a champion of improving the quality of water that was and would be served by MWD. We faced two serious problems during this period: (1) control of disinfection byproducts (like trihalomethanes), and (2) mitigation of taste and odor problems that had a habit of developing in MWD’s source water reservoirs. After much research, I became convinced that treating the water with ozone would solve both problems. However, ozone was incredibly expensive and there was significant resistance by many Board members to the effect that installing ozone would have on higher water rates.
In a series of conversations with Ina and the Water Quality Committee, she agreed that ozone was the way to go, but not before I had adequately answered all of her excellent questions. An important step toward the implementation of ozone was to build a demonstration treatment facility so that we could adequately test the treatment process on MWD water to make sure that it worked. She led the way through the thicket of Board hurdles to get approval of a $20 million ozone demonstration plant producing 5 million gallons per day. Ina and I cut the ribbon on the unique research facility in 1992. After a lot more research and Board struggles, ozone was approved for installation at the first treatment plant. Twenty years later, ozone is installed at four MWD plants (Jensen, Mills Diemer and Skinner) and the last treatment plant (Weymouth) installation was just approved. The capital cost for the ozone system will probably exceed $1 billion dollars. Using ozone (and chloramines), trihalomethanes have been controlled making it possible for hundreds of agencies serving 17 million people to meet stringent regulations. Ozone coupled with hydrogen peroxide (the PEROXONE process) was effective in destroying taste and odor compounds as the last ditch defense before water is sent to consumers. At this writing, MWD is fighting a very difficult struggle with earthy-musty odor compounds and PEROXONE is one of the key weapons that they have to safeguard the quality of MWD water. Ina always used to joke that she never imagined that MWD would use the same chemical (hydrogen peroxide) to treat water that she used to color her hair!
She also supported me during my quest to become Assistant General Manager at MWD. I was successful and almost immediately put in charge of getting Board approval for a large rate increase. The water rate increase was needed to pay for infrastructure enhancements and, most importantly, the construction of Diamond Valley Reservoir–the last major water supply reservoir built in southern California. The 23 percent rate increase was unpopular, to say the least. Ina was one of the vocal supporters of the measure even when it became clear that Beverly Hills, which she represented, was not in favor of it. The rate increase passed, but Ina felt she had to resign from the Board due to the conflict with her agency. It was the gutsiest act that I have personally witnessed by a public figure. Her farewell speech challenged the MWD Board of Directors to put aside their petty local disagreements and think of better ways to serve the entire region of southern California with safe and sufficient water. With the current battle between the San Diego County Water Authority and most of the rest of the Board, her words ring especially true today.
I left MWD shortly after Ina resigned and we lost touch. On July 4, 2010 during the late evening hours, my wife and I were sitting in a park in Indian Wells, California waiting for the fireworks show. Across the way through the gathering gloom, I saw a woman sitting on a stone wall. She inclined her head in a certain way. I could not see her face and I did not see her husband, Herb, sitting next to her, but I knew it was Ina. We had a wonderful time catching up with each other’s lives and the lives of our kids. A couple of months after our meeting, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I spoke to her a few months ago to get her recollection of a fact-finding trip that the MWD Board took to ozone research centers for a book that I am writing. Even though she was really sick, she still had all of the fire of her days at MWD. As always, she asked excellent questions.
Eulogies presented on Monday described what a truly extraordinary woman she was–wife, mother, friend, teacher, school administrator, supporter of the arts, philanthropist and public servant. I recommend that you read an article written a few months ago by Lynn Selich to get the full measure of her life accomplishments.
Ina Roth was unlike any other person that I have known. The world will miss her.