Were the posted signs demanding resignations of three Idyllwild Water District directors and a new general manager the reason chaos has arrived at the district’s door step?
From Monday to Friday, Tom Lynch, the general manager, Jim Billman, the president of the board of directors and Mike Freitas, a board director, all submitted their resignations.
As of this week, the IWD board is composed of three directors, John Cook, the acting president, Steve Kunkle and June Rockwell, both elected in August 2015. No acting general manager has been appointed.
Lynch’s resignation was submitted to Cook on Monday, Sept. 12. Lynch offered no reason for his abrupt decision. The terse statement also informed Cook that Billman was resigning. Late Friday, Freitas independently announced his resignation.
No explanation has been given for the spate of resignations. Lynch was under fire for his comment that his State Water Treatment Grade II Operator Certificate was “pending” despite the State Water Resources Control Board’s statements and evidence that he had failed it three times and was scheduled to retake it in November, all of which Lynch denied.
Publicly, directors Billman, Cook and Freitas have steadfastly defended Lynch’s statements. The board has issued no public acknowledgement of an internal investigation or further support on behalf of Lynch.
Some community members believed the signage around town demonstrating lack of support for the board’s position was the impetus for the resignations.
However, observant residents will have noticed that the signs were removed last week. The County Code Enforcement Department notified one of the property owners that the sign violated the county ordinance (806) for regulating temporary signs.
The process for filling the vacant board seats has not been announced, but if the district takes longer than 60 dates from the effective resignation dates (Sept. 12), the County Board of Supervisors can appoint a director or call for a special election.
On Monday, Sept. 19, Cook announced his preference for a special election to fill the seats. He and the two departed directors were opposed to selling any new water meters until the current water emergency stages were over. IWD has been in a Stage 2 Water Shortage Emergency since Sept. 1, 2013 — three years.
Cook is concerned that the district water supply may be approaching an over-drafted stage. Unlike water districts in the San Jacinto or Coachella valleys, Hill water districts do not rely on an underground water aquifer to feed their wells. Water percolates from the peak down the mountain to streams and the North and South Fork of the San Jacinto River. It passes through fractures in the rock deep underground. But IWD has not released any information about its water condition, other than that Foster Lake is empty, which has been the situation for several years.
IWD’s water production for the year September 2013 through August 2014, was almost 85 million gallons. From September 2015 through last month, production was 78.2 million gallons, or 8.7 percent less.
Based on this savings, the difference is equivalent to 159 additional residential units if their consumption were equal to the average water usage for the existing IWD residential customers.
Some of the people, such as Idyllwild resident Vic Sirkin, who would like to serve on the board, favor changing the policy, but Cook is worried about this view.
“This is a radical approach, I prefer a moderate approach. Finding out what our reserves are,” Cook stated. “My position is this is a very important time for the district. With two vacancies, the electoral process will allow time to debate and discuss this position.
“Already some IWD customers oppose this position, so I think it requires a community debate,” he added. “This would occur through an election process.” The Town Crier has printed several letters to the editor opposing any expansion of the IWD customer base.
Last fall, former Director Warren Monroe asked Lynch to gather that information and Cook made a similar request at the August meeting. But the district still awaits a report on its water supply, demand, and resources, according to Cook.
While both Fern Valley and Pine Cove water districts have also moved to higher water emergency stages, both districts continue to issue new water meters during the drought.
IWD schedules special meeting
Idyllwild Water District has now scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, Sept. 22 at 6:00 p.m. at the district office. On the agenda will be several items, including addressing fthe two board vacancies, an operations report, and a closed session for interviews with applicants for the interim general manager position.