In a busy first meeting of the year, Idyllwild Water District directors addressed familiar topics such as employee benefits, additional water service to the Idyllwild Arts campus and current water conservation status.

As part of a continuing review to accommodate employee benefits and the district’s financial resources, the board set a cap on future employee vacation and sick-leave accumulation.

Beginning next month, employees accrual of vacation time will be limited to 320 hours and sick-leave will be capped at 250 hours during the first 10 years of employment with IWD and 350 hours for employees with more than 10 years service.

These adjustments will then affect retirement calculations. Overtime and on-call hours will no longer be added to retirement time. Vacation time will be paid at 100 percent of current pay and sick-leave will be 25 percent of pay for employees with less than 10 years service and 50 percent for those with more than 10 years at the district.

General Manager Terry Lyons estimated the district’s savings would be about $25,000 to $35,000. Each of these changes has been discussed with the employees, who have agreed to them.

In its efforts to test possible ways to increase fire-flow water supply to the Idyllwild Arts campus, school staff and Idyllwild Fire Department Chief Patrick Reitz planned to open a gate valve near the campus entrance. This valve bypasses the school’s meter and supplies twice the water capacity. Apparently it was installed years ago and has rarely, if ever, been used.

Lyons interceded to stop the test opening and explained that, without certain safeguards, such as a backflow device, there was potential for IWD’s water system to be contaminated. In addition, the much greater flow and volume have the potential to damage the district’s pipeline infrastructure in the Tollgate zone, he added.

The district is continuing to work with the school and fire department regarding increased water supply, he told the board. However, the district’s engineer, Anders Wistrom, has told Lyons that a fire-flow test is not required nor recommended. It could be done with hydraulic network calculations on paper.

“Idyllwild Arts is working with IWD and IFPD to determine the appropriate time and circumstances to test the 6-inch bypass fire protection line,” wrote Steve Fraider, executive director, Idyllwild Arts Foundation, and director of the summer program. “The results of this test will provide all of the parties involved with some of the information needed in order to determine fire-flow protection for the Idyllwild Arts campus.”

The state Department of Public Health, in discussions with IWD, expressed concern about water and materials on the school’s side of the bypass valve flowing back into the district’s system and possible contamination. Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz said all the agencies are still working on a solution, including research to determine whether health and fire codes are in conflict.

Lyons and the IWD board are considering whether and under what conditions a future test may occur. No announcement of a next step was made at the water meeting.

While the IWD water system can be protected with proper equipment, Lyons told the board that the proposed Tollgate water storage tank should be in place before the school can draw water through the 6-inch pipe.

A draft memorandum of agreement between the school and IWD was part of the board’s agenda package. This agreement would be the basis for IWD to construct an additional storage tank for the Tollgate zone. Lyons said this would support the implementation of a larger water-flow pipeline to the campus, while maintaining consistent water pressure for the other Tollgate zone customers.

Lyons also reported on a meeting with Chief Reitz regarding maintenance of fire hydrants. In 1991, IWD and IFPD signed an agreement in which IFPD assumed responsibilities for hydrants within IWD. According to Lyons, Reitz wishes to renegotiate the 20-year-old agreement.

Reitz said he has been told that a previous fire chief had returned all equipment necessary for the fire department to test the hydrant system and therefore, the agreement is probably void, but he has staff researching that issue, too.

In water business, Lyons reported that Foster Lake’s level has risen slightly since December. But the status of the November declaration of a Stage 1 Water Conservation emergency has not been affected.

The recent cold spell has damaged many pipes, mostly customer equipment, in the district. Related to that, the district’s unaccounted for water production in December surged to 11 percent, twice the 12-month average.

Total December production was 6.6 million gallons, six percent less than December 2011. The total 2012 production of 82.9 million gallons was the least water produced since 2003.

Water sales revenue has totaled nearly $485,000 through the first six months of the fiscal year, about 50 percent of the annual projection.