Future water supply and district finances were at the core of several decisions, which the Idyllwild Water District board made last week. Current customers and staff and future customers and staff were or will be affected by the board’s decisions.
The low-flow rebate program will end on Dec. 31. In a unanimous vote, the board decided to terminate this incentive aimed at reducing customer’s water consumption.
The program was initiated in August 2002. Since then the district has dispersed thousands of dollars to customers for installing toilets and other water appliances that reduce water consumption.
IWD’s production in 2002 was 77.9 million gallons and grew to 99.9 million gallons in 2007. In the past five years, the district’s production has gradually declined. In 2011, it was 85 million gallons and is on pace to be 80.7 million this year.
“This is a good indication that the conservation program is very successful and working,” Lyons told the board. “Now we should consider phasing it out.”
Idyllwild Pines has requested a $7,000 rebate for replacing nearly 100 units this fall and Idyllwild Arts may be submitting a request before the end of the year. The program’s total cost this year has been about $14,000, according to Hosny Shouman, IWD’s chief financial officer.
Less water consumption also reduces water revenue. In September, the water revenue was about $8,000 less than the budget estimates. Most of the decline was attributable to residential use, according to Shouman.
“The commercial sales had no effect,” he wrote in an email.
So the board decided that water consumption has been sufficiently lowered to cease offering rebates as of Dec. 31.
Water consumption and supply will be discussed, next month. The board has scheduled a public hearing during its November meeting to consider revisions to Ordinance 60, which establishes the criteria for declaring an emergency water stage and the permissible expansion of use during water stages.
Currently, Idyllwild and Pine Cove water districts try to coordinate the decisions on water emergency stages. The criteria include the level at Foster Lake as well as the level of PCWD’s well no. 10 and precipitation.
The board believes it needs more independence to make those decisions solely on the status of water indicators within the district. This will be the discussion next month.
“I will be asking the board to consider Stage 1,” Lyons wrote in an email. “Foster Lake has dropped three feet since last month and is at the 10 feet level. One of our new downtown wells is showing pumping water levels at 294 feet. The total rainfall is down under 4 inches since July 2012.” The Foster Lake water level is the lowest in September since 2009, when it was at 7.5 feet level.
Related to the decision on the water emergency stage is the amount of new construction, therefore new usage, which will be allowed during these low water periods. Currently IWD has no limit when no water emergency stage has been established. During a Stage 1, it will issue 10 “will-serve” letters, meaning it will provide water service to 10 new meters within the district. For larger customers, such as camps and Idyllwild Arts, the letter expands the service without actually installing a new meter.
In Stage 2, the number of letters that might be issued is reduced to five and eliminated during a Stage 3. “In general we issue at most about three letters per year,” Director John Cook said.
Lyons recommended that the board consider new criteria for issuing will-serve letters. The board will also consider modifying these limits. Specifically, they are even reluctant to leave the number of letters that might be issued during normal, no water emergency stage status, at unlimited. While the district has ample water for current customers, the board does not want to allow expansion to exceed its available and future supply.
“I think Stage 1 should be at [three letters annually],” Cook said.
If there is no stage declared, the board is considering increasing the three annual will-serve letters by the number of EDUs [equivalent development units) that had not been issued in previous years.
Laura Sherman, project manager for Idyllwild Arts, noted that the will-serve letters the school will request are often for more than one EDU. Director Warren Monroe acknowledged her point and said, “We’ll commit to an amount of water [annually].”
The IWD board will discuss what limitations to apply to future growth during its November meeting. In particular, the uncertainty about future availability remains cloudy until the State Water Resource Control Board resolves IWD’s rights to the Strawberry Creek flow.
The third decision, which affects the district’s expenses in the future, was a change to the employee health benefit package. The board, with employee concurrence, has capped the health insurance benefit at $600 per month per employee.
Each employee will be responsible for the cost of health insurance above a $600 limit, which is higher if the employee has another family member or the whole family included in the insurance package.
“This was needed for the long-term financial stability of the district,” explained Cook. “Revenue is decreasing considerably. People are conserving more, interest income is down and property tax revenue falling. … Without these saving, the rate increase would be unacceptable.”
“We’re happy the board could work with the employees,” said Kelly Clark, IWD office administrator. “We trust the board to make the right decision.”
The board is also exploring changes to retirement benefits, but is still examining options and plans. The expected health benefit savings is about $12, 750 annually, according to Shouman.