The Fern Valley Water District board met with a minimum quorum and discussed topics including significantly lower water sales, cold-weather damage to infrastructure, ongoing taste and odor problems with Tank 11 water, a pending comprehensive agreement with Idyllwild Fire Protection District and funding retiree health benefits.

It was a full plate of issues led by inquiries from the board starting with why water sales had dropped so precipitously in both residential and multiple connections, down 22.7 percent from $36,800 in the November and December 2011 billing period to $28,500 in 2012. Water consumption dropped 17.7 percent in the same period from 5.5 million gallons to 4.5 million for the comparative two-month billing periods. General Manager Steve Erler posited that fewer part-timers were coming up. The 2012 billing period shows a continued decline in water consumption over the last 10 years.

Abnormally cold weather caused infrastructure damage, but mostly to customer pipes, Erler said. The district’s responsibility is to the street meter. Erler noted several broken meters and a frozen service line. “The freeze was deep,” he said, “about a foot down.”

Erler discussed an in-the-works-written agreement with Idyllwild Fire Protection District for hydrant testing and maintenance. Erler noted IFPD has agreed in principle to conduct all hydrant testing. The district would color-code hydrants based on capacity and pressure. Erler said a full agreement requires signoff by both the IFPD commission and his board.

Erler noted that tank 11, taken out of service more than nine times since it was recoated, continues to generate taste and odor complaints. Erler plans to get an arms-length report from a disinterested third-party expert about the cause of the problem before pursuing further action.

Lastly, the district will begin funding retiree health benefits, which to date it has carried as a liability on its books. Board President Charlie Wix was adamant that the district must begin funding its obligation. Jessica Priefer, district office manager, will obtain an actuarial quote to show current liability and the district will discuss at its February meeting what minimum level to begin funding. “We need to select a number and go with it,” said Wix. The district funds its obligation through CalPERS.