Idyllwild Water returns to Stage 1

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On April 1, the Idyllwild Water District will return to a Stage 1 Water Conservation Emergency after three-and-half years in Stage 2, which began September 2013. The vote was 4-0-1. Director Vic Sirkin abstained because the board is not ready to sell new water meters, although it has lifted the Stage 2 mandatory conservation efforts.

While the board’s discussion favored re-opening meter sales, General Manager Jack Hoagland recommended a delay. He opined that near Oct. 1, the district would be in good shape to offer meters to undeveloped parcels.

A review of current rates and their implementation was Hoagland’s reason for the suggested deferral. Concern for water supply was not raised during the discussion.

Leaving Stage 2 was based on Hoagland’s discussion of current water conditions. Foster Lake is full, the groundwater level of the wells in that area is above 50 feet deep, downtown groundwater well levels also have substantially improved and reservoirs are all near full capacity.

“The water supply is in pretty good shape. You made it through five years of drought and didn’t run out,” Hoagland said.

A complete elimination of the water conservation emergency status was not recommended while the State Water Resources Control Board continues to maintain the drought declaration and “… is still monitoring emergency drought regulations.” Hoagland thought the SWRCB would address this issue, which many water districts dispute after this winter’s precipitation.

He plans to prepare a water-supply assessment, “including the results of production over the five-year drought, and revise the will-serve and water-meter issuance policy, along with a review of the water rate structure.”

“I’ll come back to the board with concerns about the ability of the district to defend the rate structure,” Hoagland said. “We’ll evaluate a best-cost-of-service study and more equitably allocate the costs between classes of customers.”

The return to Stage 1 from Stage 2 is likely to reduce water sales revenue between $125,000 and $200,000 annually, Hoagland projected.

Sirkin was not opposed to these future steps, but did not feel they needed to be completed before lifting the ban on new water meter sales. The district’s responsibility is to provide water to its customers and not control development of private property, he argued.

“I believe sooner rather later, this board will sell meters,” Hoagland replied, but recommended that the overall water rate and meter policy should be revised first. He acknowledged that there are currently 28 requests for purchase of new water meters pending.

One of the issues with which the board grappled was the role of the will-serve letters and the purchase of the meters. At one point, Director Peter Szabadi recommended the change to Stage 1 and issuing new will-serve letters. Later, he reversed and thought no will-serve letters should be issued yet.

At one point, the board even considered deferring any decision until April, but did not pursue that option.

Later, Sirkin recommended the board hold a workshop focused solely on revisions to Ordinance 64, which established the water policy and rates. Hoagland has said that a date for the workshop has not yet been confirmed.

Returning to a Stage 1 water emergency will lift several mandates applied to district customers. For example, under Stage 2, irrigation is limited to between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m., and car washing must use a bucket rather than an open hose.

The Stage 1 policy states, “Users of District water shall voluntarily reduce the amount of water used to that amount minimally necessary for household use (drinking, cooking, bathing) and for business necessity.”

In February, IWD produced 5.6 million gallons of water. In August 2013, the last month the district was in a Stage 1, production was 8.6 million gallons and only declined 30,000 gallons in September 2013, the first month of Stage 2.

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