The Idyllwild Water District is also considering a rate increase later this year. Last Friday, its Rules and Regulations Committee met to discuss several changes to its water policies, including possible rate increases.

Should the district go to Stage 3 water conservation, the tiered rate structure may need to be modified, and the committee, composed of directors John Cook and Warren Monroe, reviewed three options, which General Manager Tom Lynch proposed.

One option would be to keep the existing tiers as they are. A second would be to begin charging for water that currently is included within the current base rate of $28.70. A third would be a more gradual staggering of the rate increase among the tiers.

One of these options would impose a nickel charge per cubic foot for the first 3,740 gallons and another option would impose the nickel-per-cubic-foot for the first 1,870 gallons and a dime for the 1,870 gallons up to 3,740. Usage beyond these limits would cost 21 cents per cubic foot. (A cubic foot is the equivalent of 7.48 gallons.)

At the end of the discussion, both Monroe and Cook indicated they tended to favor a rate increase with more gradual, staggered tiers, but no decision was made at the meeting and the full board will discuss a possible rate change in the future.

The committee and general manager acknowledged that the conservation measures Gov. Jerry Brown wants are somewhat at odds with a recent appellate court decision that any rate tiers would be required to be based on production costs.

“What we are looking at is balancing the directive we received from the state, and what we heard from the court about the San Juan Capistrano decision,” Lynch told the Town Crier after the meeting. “We know that on the one hand, the governor wants penalty fees for high-water consumers, yet, on the other hand, the courts have indicated that fees need to correlate to cost of production …

“Based on our present rate structure, we can address the problem in several ways, which could include keeping our rates as they presently exist, readjusting the amounts we charge in more graduated steps, or separating out our meter charge from our consumption charge, and charging a per-cubic-foot amount commensurate with straight production costs,” Lynch said.

The committee discussed a variety of other issues that affect water use and regulation during water emergency stages, including criteria that would trigger the various water stages.

Other topics included the need and availability of meters. As more homeowners install sprinklers, which may require a larger meter, can they obtain the larger meter during Stage 2?

Also bandied about was the expansion of sprinkler systems for fire protection. While actual installation of a sprinkler system for fires does not necessarily consume more water, it creates the promise of water availability. The committee discussed how this might affect the need for expanded supply and cost. In the case of an actual home fire, the committee wondered how long a sprinkler system would continue to flow unattended.

Other meter issues addressed the question of whether an individual who owns two properties separate and possibly non-adjacent, one with a meter and one without, can transfer the meter from one property to the other. “Why does it matter which lot they use?” asked Cook. Lynch responded that the district wanted to prevent an unofficial commodity market in water meters.

Also, does the district require a meter of a property owner who has their own well?

And what to do about businesses that consume large amounts of water, such as the laundry and restaurants, during higher water stages? “We don’t want to impact the integrity of business customers,” Lynch told the committee.

For rental properties, IWD currently bills the tenant at the request of the property owner, but may end this option for legal reasons.

The committee also discussed the need for education regarding, for example, people who want to water big trees. It was pointed out that it does no good to irrigate at the base of a tree trunk when the tree’s roots are actually collecting water from a perimeter a good distance away from the trunk.

Cook raised the question of whether persons should be prohibited from collecting water in tanks, just as persons are prohibited from filling swimming pools. But Monroe pointed out that they were not the same, since water in tanks could still be used in the future for watering purposes. Lynch suggested that perhaps they could require that recycled water be used to fill tanks.

“Depending on how long our state drought lasts, we are still only in Stage 2, but we want to be prepared if we have to go to a State 3, or if the state imposes standards that we need to comply with,” Lynch added.