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DeMeo makes history as first female president of FPUD board

The board of directors unanimously elected Jennifer DeMeo to serve as board president, making her the first woman in the district’s history to lead the board. She was officially seated at the Dec. 7 meeting.

FPUD will be 100 years old in June 2022 and to date, has had only two other women serve on the board: Pat Knock, who served from 1996-98, and Mary McNeil, who served from 1998-2002. McNeil served as vice president in 2000.

“I am excited to serve our ratepayers in this new role and to be the first woman to lead our board,” said DeMeo. “It’s an honor. And I want to enhance community outreach.”

The tiny Fallbrook water district was formed June 5, 1922 by residents who wanted to serve water from local area wells along the San Luis Rey River. It covered only 500 acres.

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Then Fallbrook began to grow. As it grew, so did the need for more water and FPUD responded by developing additional groundwater supplies from both the San Luis Rey and the Santa Margarita rivers. Growth and agriculture grew more, and flourished.

Fast forward to 2020: FPUD has expanded to 35,000 customers across 44 square miles. In June of 2022, FPUD is planning an open-to-the-public celebration on district grounds. It will highlight area history, have kid-friendly activities, local food, water games and local entertainment.

Accomplishments since she joined the board

Since DeMeo was first elected to the board in 2016, FPUD made great strides on resolving a 70-years-old legal fight to use local, cheaper water from the Santa Margarita River. FPUD had lost rights to that water during the fight and had to buy expensive, imported water instead. But now, local water will be flowing from Fallbrook taps by early 2022, giving rate relief from escalating imported water costs.

Also under DeMeo’s tenure, the board permanently preserved the 1,384 acres of hiking trails along the Santa Margarita River, and ensured public access and the use of the trails in perpetuity.

In the 70s, 80s and 90s, the district and its population were growing and water demands were increasing. But since then, due to droughts, water demands and sales have decreased dramatically. Since pipes and infrastructure still have to be maintained, this has put pressure on Fallbrook water rates and shifted FPUD’s focus on controlling rising imported water costs.

To mitigate this, FPUD is pursuing buying imported water from Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County and detaching from the San Diego County Water Authority. The move, though legally complicated, would save $3 – 4 million per year.

“Our board is aligned on this issue,” said DeMeo. “We hear the pleas from customers and as ratepayers ourselves, we feel the pinch, especially during this financially challenging pandemic.”

FPUD’s detachment proposal must first be approved by the Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, which is governed by local and appointed officials. The commission is expected to vote on it sometime in 2021. If approved, it would go before Fallbrook voters.

DeMeo joined the board in Nov. 2016 and was reelected to her second term last month. She is FPUD’s representative on the Association of California Water Agencies JPIA insurance board, and has been since 2018. JPIA stands for Joint Powers Insurance Authority. In addition to being an insurance provider, JPIA provides risk management and a wide variety of training.

The longtime Fallbrook resident moved here from Escondido to live in the town she describes as “out of the way, with a village feel.” She holds a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from Guilford College in North Carolina.

She is currently working as a writer to publish, in the fall of 2021, her inspirational nonfiction work about keeping faith through adversity. She is active in the Republican Party in San Diego County and served as an alternate on the party’s Central Committee for her husband, Lee DeMeo. She is also a youth volunteer at North Coast Church in Fallbrook.