An unseasonably cold January and February froze customer pipes in Fern Valley driving the water district’s water consumption and sales up dramatically.

Consumption increased more than one million gallons over last year’s January and February billing period, which in turn drove water sales up nearly 80 percent — from $21,994 to $39,133. Since the leaks were on the customers’ side of the water meter, they are responsible for the consequences — repair and water usage.

“There were a lot of customers with water usage in the third [billing] tier,” said district office manager Jessica Priefer.

The district’s 12-month running average of unaccounted for water increased from 12.5 to 14.3 percent. At least one major leak on the district’s side of the meter was the cause of the growth.

At its Friday, March 15, Fern Valley Water District meeting, the board heard General Manager Steve Erler report on a number of topics. Discussed were two critical district infrastructure projects. One involved Tank 11 and coating issues that may be affecting water odor and taste in that zone. The other is a pipeline replacement project scheduled this year for upper Fern Valley.

Regarding Tank 11, Erler told his board, “We’re working on it,” indicating that the fix may not be a simple one. Erler said water quality samples taken from the now offline tank showed normal readings. A board committee of Charlie Wix and Bob Krieger is working with Erler on the problem. Erler related that a representative of Colon Coating, Inc., the company that installed the coating, when asked what might be the cause of the odor and taste complaints, said, “It’s the water.”

Beginning Monday, March 18, bids will be solicited from prequalified contractors for the Fern Valley pipeline replacement project. The bids will be accepted until April 10. On the next day, they will be opened at the offices of Albert A. Webb Associates, the civil engineering and planning that has long worked with the district to perform project studies and create drawings, plans and permits. The lowest qualifying bidder will be awarded the contract on April 19. Construction should begin about May 3 with contract completion within 100 days. The main portion of the project runs along Fern Valley Road from Rim Rock to the tank farm near Humber Park, with forays up Howland and Encino Roads. Erler noted that 14 existing fire hydrants would be replaced with new models.

The board also passed a resolution requesting the Riverside County Registrar of Voters to conduct the Tuesday, Aug. 27 election. Up for election are board members Jim Rees and Bob Krieger. If only two candidates apply for the two seats, the election is unnecessary and the Board of Supervisors will appoint the two candidates to begin their term in December. Rees and Krieger have indicated their intention to stand and serve another term if elected.