Editor’s note: There will be a story next week with more background details on the sewer issue.

In a 4-1 vote, with Director Trischa Clark dissenting, the Fern Valley Water District (FVWD) board of directors followed General Manager Steve Erler’s recommendation to bill customer and adjacent homeowner Gary Weber for a percentage (approximately one third) of total costs for installing a separate sewer lateral.

Installation of a separate lateral would remedy a more than 30-year-old condition in which FVWD offices and an adjacent property (now owned by Weber) share the same sewer connection. The board voted to require Weber to share costs up to $800. It had previously agreed, as confirmed by its October 2011 minutes, that Idyllwild and Fern Valley water districts “both agree that the situation needs to be remedied by installing a separate sewer lateral. They [the two districts] also agreed that both Districts should share in the cost and Mr. Weber would be willing to participate financially to an extent.”

Weber said he offered unspecified monetary participation in October to help resolve the continuing issue. Weber first learned of the shared sewer connection in March 2011 while his purchase was in escrow. The day escrow closed, sewage backed up at the district office. Shortly thereafter Erler suggested to Weber the shared line should be corrected.

“I thought all parties should participate,” said Erler of the board’s vote. Erler acknowledged he had never discussed a one-third sharing of costs (the $800) with Weber prior to the board vote. Weber left dissatisfied with the decision. “This [the shared lateral] was something of which the district was aware that had been long swept under the rug,” said Weber. “Our position from day one was we should have no financial responsibility.”

Weber’s Real estate agent Maggie Morphett, wrote to Erler on Jan. 22 about the “inappropriateness” of the board’s decision. Morphett posited that since FVWD had been aware of the shared line for 30 years and through two changes of ownership of the adjacent property, and had demanded no changes then or during the Weber’s escrow, that any responsibility for remedying the situation should fall upon FVWD.

Morphett said any negotiation regarding the problem of the lateral should have occurred during escrow not after it had closed. Morphett called upon the board to reverse their decision and resolve the issue with no cost to the Webers.

Erler contends that Morphett and Weber were informed of the shared lateral prior to close of escrow. He also noted that neither he nor his board knew the shared connection was uncommon or needed remediation. He stated that he believed no prior FVWD board or general manager had requested installing a new lateral.

In other business, Erler reported that the some district customers have continued to observe taste and odor issues with water stored in Tank 11. Erler recommended limiting water in the tank to a depth of 6 feet, which is one-third its capacity. This would allow water to circulate more frequently. “We’ll try this process to get water in and out more frequently,” Erler said.

November/December 2011 water consumption is up 8.2 percent from 2010, sales are up 37.4 percent, and the unaccounted-for water running average is 15.1 percent.