Lee Arnson, RMRU member, described how the snow pack surveys are conducted to the IWD board. Photo b J.P. Crumrine
Idyllwild Water District will hold a public hearing May 22 on whether to increase water rates 6 percent, 12 percent or not at all. If the district decides on the larger rate increase, some of the additional monies will be used for construction of a long-discussed recycled water facility.

In June 2010, the district approved a 6 percent rate increase for five consecutive years. The first increase was effective July 1, 2010. However, the board deferred the 2011 increase, but did authorize a second 6 percent rate change in June 2012.

This year, the board will consider a 6 percent increase similar to last year and also institute the 6 percent rate adjustment from 2011.

“Many of our operational costs and expenses have increased — the property taxes have gone down. The cost of doing business requires us to consider the 6 percent and the 6 percent increase we passed on in 2011,” IWD General Manger Terry Lyons said.

On an average residential water bill, which totals $24.17, a full 12 percent increase would be $2.90, for a new monthly balance of $27.07, according to IWD’s Chief Financal Officer Hosny Shouman. In total, the district’s water and sewer revenues would increase about $140,000 annually, to nearly $1.3 million.

Lyons also mentioned the state considers IWD’s sewer rates too low; consequently, that is one of the reasons the Water Resources Control Board said that caused it to reduce its financing offer for the recycled water facility.

“Our sewer rates need to be more than 1.5 percent of the median household income; our rate is at 0.46 percent,” Lyons explained in a subsequent email.

In other financial matters, Shouman announced that IWD would now accept credit cards for payments. “We are going to accept all kinds of credit cards — Visa, Mastercard, American Express [and others] online, walk in, [or] by phone,” he told the board. There will be a $3.50 fee for a credit card charge.

The board also invited Lee Arnson, a local surveyor and member of the Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit, who conducts the annual snow pack surveys, to explain the methods and discuss current results.

Arnson noted how cyclical weather patterns are over time, but the snow pack trend has been falling. In February, Arnson found 30 inches of snow above Saddle Junction, but said he felt an April survey this year would be futile.

“I’m looking to expand our criteria for water conservation stages and thinking about incorporating the snow pack,” Lyons told the board.

Currently, IWD has declared a Stage 1 conservation level, but with Foster Lake only half full, he is continuing to be concerned about the adequacy of the summer’s water supply.

“The Foster Lake level is at nine feet. That’s half of normal for this time of year,” Lyons told the board. “If we’re going into a dry spell, the lake may be empty this summer.”

When asked about the possibility of elevating the conservation level to Stage 2, Lyons replied, “I hope that is not the case, but I am concerned when using the history of little rain for summer months and higher water usage that we may have to consider Stage II.”