Sewer bills for Idyllwild Water District’s 600 sewer customers will increase 50 percent in October. The Board of Directors unanimously approved the increase at its Sept. 10 meeting.

The new rates are estimated to raise revenues about $180,000 annually. For most of the 420 residential customers, the monthly increase will be $12.75, for a total monthly sewer bill of $38.25. This amounts to another $153 each year. Since 2010, rates have grown 33 percent because of annual 6-percent increases.

General Manager Tom Lynch recommended the rate increase because “… the system [at the treatment plant] is seriously denigrated.

“The rates are not sufficient to cover operational costs and the capital expenses,” he added. Revenue from the sewer fees fails to cover the costs to operate the sewer program. Even the addition of property taxes from properties within the district is insufficient.

“With this adjustment, it will be seven to eight years before we can reach stabilization of funds,” Lynch said.

“We’re using [property] taxes to cover expense,” noted Director Warren Monroe. These revenues should have been set aside for capital projects, Lynch responded.

Lynch and his staff see the need for a multi-million-dollar capital improvement program, spread over several years, to improve the treatment facility. This effort will consume IWD’s reserves without the help of the rate increase.

The most pressing project will be a 1-mile replacement of the effluent line at the treatment site. The wastewater treatment plant was built in 1971 and operations started in 1972. The last major sewer capital program was in 2006 and focused on IWD’s manhole covers.

In water business, Lynch reported that “… well levels are holding or slightly diminished. We are watching the well levels at [Foster] Lake.” Recent rainfall did not affect the well levels and Foster Lake remains dry. IWD is making greater use of the downtown wells because of the drought, according to Lynch.

IWD’s August water consumption was 7.6 million gallons, which was almost 1 million less than August 2013 and 2.1 million less than July. For the first eight months of 2014, production has fallen 6.9 million gallons to a total of 56.9 million. For the same period in 2013, production was 63.9 million gallons or more than 10 percent less.

The Tollgate tank is being filled slowly, Lynch reported. It will soon be connected to the distribution system.

At this meeting, another customer, Dr. William Walker, addressed the board about his recent high water bill. “I’m asking how this could happen and what can we do?” he inquired.

Lynch said his staff is investigating the situation and there are several possibilities, some of which are not obvious. But he told the board, “Because of these concerns, I’ll bring a manufacturer’s representative to the next meeting.”

“Maybe we have a batch of meters breaking down?” posed President Jim Billman, who asked Lynch to do an investigation because “something is not right.”