Foster Lake when full with Marion Mountain in the background. It’s been many years since the lake contained more than a puddle.	Photo by Jim Nessheim
Foster Lake when full with Marion Mountain in the background. It’s been many years since the lake contained more than a puddle. Photo by Jim Nessheim

At the end of the Pine Cove Water District board meeting last week, General Manager Jerry Holldber reported on the status of a possibility that the Idyllwild Water District would transfer water from its proposed recycling facility to its Foster Lake reservoir.

“Several dozen customers have questioned me about what is going on,” Holldber said, explaining why he was reporting on the project. “And secondly, the lack of transparency. In 2010, I requested the plan and we’ve never received a copy. I’m concerned about non-potable water going into hard rock because of the way water travels through fractured rock. I’m still concerned of unknown risks or the chance of jeopardizing groundwater from putting non-potable water into Foster Lake.”

Although the State Water Resources Control Board approved grant money and loans for the construction of the project, another part of the agency has not approved the transfer of recycled water to Foster Lake and is now questioning IWD’s intent to pursue the project.

“We haven’t received anything on Idyllwild’s proposed recycled water-distribution system yet. The June 2016 report just had info on the proposed treatment plant and that Idyllwild wanted to use a tank at the [Idyllwild] Pines Campground to store recycled water in,” wrote Erica Wolski, associate sanitary engineer with the Recycle Water unit of the SWRCB. “We haven’t heard anything else since we gave them comments on the report in August. I’m not sure if they still plan to pursue the project now that management has changed.”

In early August, Wolski provided comments to IWD’s consultant on its latest report. Regarding the use of Foster lake to store recycled water, she wrote, “Above ground storage would be preferred to impoundments. Any impoundments proposed need to have an impermeable liner to avoid recycled water discharge to the aquifer.”

Questions over the use of recycled water near local wells have been raised before. In 2005, the San Jacinto Mountain Area Water Study Agency, which was a joint powers agency composed of Fern Valley, Idyllwild and Pine Cove water districts, had a contractor — Albert A. Webb Associates ¬— prepare a joint water management plan.

As part of the plan, the consultant assessed the possibility of a groundwater recycled reuse project. Webb and Associates contacted the state Department of Public Health and in March 2005, Steven Williams, the district engineer, replied to the questions about the “… the use of reclaimed secondary effluent from IWD wastewater treatment plan for ground water recharge.”

Since the three districts obtain most of their water from “wells drilled into this fractured rock aquifer,” the DPH was concerned about the lack of any studies or other proposed or operating groundwater recharge/reuse project in fractured-rock aquifer zones.

Consequently, any proposed project would have to undergo a thorough evaluation, according to Williams. “The project proponents must demonstrate, through modeling, tracer studies, or other means the ability to accurately predict and track the movement of any recharged recycled water once it leaves the recharge site.”

Holldber told the board he requested studies of this nature in 2010 and has not received any reports — final or draft —discussing how the water travels beneath the surface.

“Recycled water recharge with secondary treated wastewater effluent is prohibited and the project proponents would need to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant to an approved disinfected tertiary treatment process,” Williams concluded in his letter. IWD’s proposed recycling plant is a tertiary treatment process.

If IWD is prohibited from moving water from the recycling plant to Foster Lake, its success will depend largely on how much of the recycled water is used for irrigation. But that has a negative consequence on the district’s revenue, since recycled water cannot be sold for as much as potable water.

Earlier in December 2010, an internal IWD assessment deemed the project too costly for its limited purpose — reducing demand for potable water for irrigation use. But Webb and Associates had already opined that “the Idyllwild communities do not have a large number of heavily irrigated areas… and residential irrigation is seasonal.”

In 2012, the IWD evaluation assumed Idyllwild Arts would use 450,000 gallons for irrigation, and residents and commercial customers would use about 185,000 gallons. Ordinance 61 requires mandatory recycled water use for landscape irrigation.

Former IWD financial officer Jim Ludy reviewed the consultant’s report, which was sent to the state, and wrote, “This report is inaccurate and not in the best interest of the District or its customers.” The former boards never discussed this difference of opinion publicly.

In June 2012, the district dismissed Ludy for malfeasance. Ludy then sued the district. He contended his dismissal was because of his comments and review of the recycled water project. Less than two years later, IWD settled the suit.

Cost of recycling plant continues to grow

2013 estimate $1.3 million
2015 funding approval $2 million

In November 2015, after receiving funding approval from the SWRCB in the spring of 2015, IWD contracted with Separation Processes Inc. to develop specifications for the plant, called the preliminary design report. While these were expected within months, the final report has yet to go to the board. This may increase construction estimates.


  1. That’s the way to do it scare your customers. Jerry never lies. Let’s take Jim Ludy story that’s a lie! Getting rid of him had nothing to do with recycled water. He was costing the district thousands and thousands of dollars but you only listen to disgruntled employees. You and Jeff Smith are a perfect match but you won’t be able to come down and sit with your buddy and cause chaos at the IWD meetings because As soon as he gets his restraining order he won’t be able to get within 100 feet of the meeting. Again let be the real man your customers think you are and tell them and everyone else in the mountain you will never go for one water district on the mountain. Someone that doesn’t want the best for their customers should resign that position.

    Michael Freitas

  2. Jerry is worried about non-potable water. Is the water from strawberry creek potable water? If so I would like to see sample reports from the state that have been sent in. He is worried about tertiary treatment but does he know what’s in the water from strawberry creek? Maybe he does but when I asked that question to JP and said I didn’t think they knew and would like to see those reports, I still have not got a response. Knowing how thorough JP is I would think he would find out and show me.
    Michael Freitas

  3. A person doesn’t have to be a hydrologist or a climatologist to recognize future need to develop alternative water resources. If local weather patterns continue and our average precipitation levels diminish then the amount of groundwater (captured within the fractures of this mountain) will certainly be affected.
    The ultimate goal for the treatment project is to make tertiary level 1 water available as a supplementary resource. Tertiary level 1 is creek water. The State has total oversite and the District has to comply.
    Recycled water for irrigation purposes only, will extend the current potable resource by reducing demand on existing surface and/or groundwater.
    The mountain we live on is surrounded by a huge population consuming water resources at an alarming rate. By default it is having and effect on the available water within the local fracture zone. ( i.e. our local artesian wells and springs are not as vigorous as they once were or they are no longer active.)
    Drilling more wells may be beneficial, however the cost of producing water will probably go up. The certainty of a good well site,also, is not guaranteed.
    The continuation of the recycle project will give the local area an alternative water resource rather than a speculative “what if”.
    As a final note, merging the Districts will be an invaluable tool to eliminating this “what if” mentality.
    Questions about salaries, inventories, infrastructure, personnel, water quality, economics, government, transparency and above all, the good of the local residents and visitors would be addressed.
    Jim Billman

  4. I am amazed that two former directors who resigned without notice or comment in a time of crisis have so much to say about the district’s operation and future. And James, two generations of my family have learned to swim in Strawberry Creek. They never needed to scrub with soap and water after making contact with the creek. Also, a single district is far easier to influence by special interests blind to the intrinsic and focused on their reckless designs. Chuck Stroud Idyllwild

    • Chuck, don’t be amazed about former directors comments. They are based on fact and not conjecture. I sat on committees doing extensive background work on these programs. You indicate that the creek water was a more than adequate medium to learn to swim in. The eventual product of this pilot program, if approved, would be higher quality than current creek water. At any rate, the recycled water would be a good supplement with which to irrigate the plant life (i.e. apple trees ). The long range potential for this project would benefit the entire area.
      Inre special interests and / or opinions, they exist in all three districts and are selective to the needs for that district alone. One unified district will lessen the potential for ( so called ) reckless designs.
      Jim Billman

  5. No! People like you now and back a few years ago trying to take away Idyllwild water rights and a number of realtors and new board members with agendas made it impossible. When the people in town don’t care enough to pay attention to what’s going on and small group backed by the media can’t have tremendous strength unfortunately in a small town. Time will tell all we can hope for is it isn’t another Chamber of Commerce biting the dirt.
    Michael Freitas

  6. As you can see here it’s Money, Money, Money. Pure and simple

    PUBLIC COMMENT: Vic Sirkin, a local realtor, thanked the Board for their service and said the budget seems financially sound with revenues being reduced. He made a plea to the Board to consider seniors who bought their property to build their dream home many years ago for retirement and now are unable to, due to the meter restriction. He said it would take them a long time to actually build a home and by then the drought may be over. At this point people who purchased lots are stuck with a lemon. He said allowing meters would result in trickle-down economics, with local builders, drywallers, painters, etc. gaining work. He asked the Board to consider lifting the moratorium on meters. He said residents are showing that they can do a good job of conserving what water we have. He said he is aware of a person that bought a lot with a meter for $125,000 who now can sell it for $250,000. He asked the Board to consider the capacity fees and monthly base fee income the meters could generate. Vice President Cook said that Stage 3 could be right around the corner.

  7. Vic from the past.

    On Monday after her summary of Thursday’s meeting, Maag permitted ICRC Director Vic Sirkin to read a letter in which the ICRC board stated this was not the time to make their case for retaining recreation or to present their menu of expanded recreational opportunities.
    Committee member Mike Frietas prefaced his recommendation with these words, “I have a problem with both sides [those at the Monday meeting and the county].” Frietas faulted community members for only getting interested at the eleventh hour and for not attending CSA meetings. He faulted the county for asking the Committee to make its recommendations without information Frietas said he needed, such as from where county employee benefits would be paid.
    Addressing the present ICRC board members immediately prior to the Committee “vote” he said, “ICRC doesn’t do anything until they’re forced to. That’s my opinion and I may be wrong, but this board needs to be more active, and get more help.”

  8. Looking at the tower crier and the meeting they had with four candidates and the questions they asked and the answers they gave
    Good luck
    They have a paper asking questions they have no knowledge of to people that pretend to know everything. Ignorance, good bye IWD.
    There is one that has a clue

  9. Jeff you have the nerves to say the word tantrum about anyone. After going into IWD office and throwing a five year old tantrum to the point of someone calling The sheriffs department and putting the fear into someone there they wanted to put a restraining order that is what I call a tantrum and slightly a mental problem. Just because you must have a miserable life it’s no reason to keep attaching Idyllwild. For the people that live there now many don’t know you have cost them many thousands of dollars trying to take away their water rights. And because of that one of the biggest reasons we needed to start thinking about recycled water. Then to top it off your one of the people that want to stop water recycling. I guess you won’t be happy till you can do everything possible to take away all the water you can from the people in Idyllwild. That’s a very miserable person and a sick mind!
    If anyone in Idyllwild listens to you or backs you then those people deserve all the distraction you have done. For your sake try and get a life and leave idyllwild out of your own miserable sick life!

  10. Looking at the latest Town crier I see something completely wrong. The reason for a sheriff had nothing to do with Jp, maybe a tiny bit it was Jeff Smith. Jeff Smith came into the IWD office unhinged a month or so ago and the sheriffs department was called. After talking to Smith the sheriffs department recommended having a sheriff present at the meetings. Also in the paper it was said the the financials of the water district were getting much better in the last four or five years which proves how well the board directed to water District. Remember this and look in four to five years from now and see where they stand. Answers given by the possible new Directors sound like a lot of money is to be spent on others from the outside telling them what they need. Answers to the weak questions to the maybe new Directors we’re very weak. So you Idyllwild customers you better get more interested on what is going on especially if you believe in climate change and someone on the outside telling the water district what they need to do. Good Luck!
    Again I told you last week why I left the district in letter to the editor not the reason they said today in this weeks paper.
    Michael Freitas
    Idyllwild customer