Photo by Kris Kirschbaum

By Kris Krischbaum

With the exception of Steve Kunkle, members of the Idyllwild Water District Board of Directors are all new to their positions. They are learning the ropes as they go, and in some areas there is a steep learning curve. During the special meeting of the board on Wednesday, May 24, there was lengthy discussion regarding the pipeline project scheduled for an area including Bicknell, South Circle, and Marian View and a segment of Cedar Street.

Directors Kunkle and Vic Sirkin voiced disapproval of the project and encouraged the board to scrap it, return the grant fund money and reconsider the need to replace the water pipes in the areas specified. Director Peter Szabadi encouraged the board to continue the project and raised concern about how the district would be viewed as a larger risk for future grants if another project were scrapped and grant monies returned. Money from two grants has already been returned with work stopped on the horizontal wells and the recycled water projects.

Director Geoffrey Caine voiced his indecision and asked acting General Manager Jack Hoagland to speak to the specifics of the project. Although he initially said he preferred not to comment, Hoagland eventually described how materials and specifications for the project will help the new pipeline last longer and potentially have fewer problems than previous types of material and design. After more discussion of future projects and grant funding issues, Caine seconded the motion made by Szabadi to move forward with the project, and the directors passed the motion to put the project out to bid with board President Dr. Charles “Chip” Shelley as the third in agreement. Kunkle and Sirkin voted no.

The board and the few members of the public in attendance also heard from Idyllwild Fire Protection District Chief Patrick Reitz about meter size and sprinkler systems in the district. Reitz said that all new construction and homes (the discussion only concerned residential property, not commercial) having from 10- to 50-percent square footage of addition, depending on the type, are required to have meters to accommodate sprinkler systems. The requirement is not a fixed size for a required meter, but is based on the available water pressure in the area of the structure and the amount of water needed to douse the fire. Different zones, or parts of the Hill, have greater and lesser water pressure available. Those two items create a matrix that is unique for every construction project, and which, in turn, determines the size of the meter needed to be in compliance.

Board members and Reitz discussed ways to meet future construction needs and associated water meters. One option discussed was to charge a deposit for a specified size water meter requested by the consumer. The deposit connected to the Will-Serve letter would have an expiration date to encourage the construction to take place in a timely manner. Once the construction plans are completed and the fire department’s matrix (outlining available water flow and water needed) would determine the actual size of the meter required. The consumer could then pay additional money for an increased-size or receive credit for a reduced-size meter. The chief stressed that there is not a set meter size required, but that each construction project must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In other business, the board formed a sub-committee of two members — Kunkle and Szabadi — to examine internal and external compliance issues and bring recommendations back to the full board. Members of the public Tom Paulek and Sue Nash voiced concern that the board intended to conduct business in secrecy. Board members insisted the intent was to speed up consideration of issues and still adhere to the Brown Act.

Board members also agreed to further investigate the purchase of large quantities of rain barrels to be made available to the public at cost. Marge Muir conveyed that the same project had been discontinued by the Pine Cove Water District because the district was selling the barrels at a loss. Board members agreed to research further.

Caine suggested that there be a way to communicate more directly with the public. The board agreed to hold more frequent workshops where the board and public can have conversations about issues and concerns. The next workshop will be held at the Idyllwild Water District at 9 a.m. on Monday, June 5.

Hoagland also brought two items to the attention of the board for future consideration. One concerned Idyllwild Arts’ deposit for unspecified future work, and the other concerned simplification of water usage for future construction of the Idyllwild Community Center. Two other items were tabled to the next meeting: Consideration of supervisory staff vacancies and resumed the search for a permanent general manager.

The open session concluded at 8:15 p.m. and went into closed session regarding the performance of their interim general manager.

The next regular meeting will be held Wednesday, June 21 at 6 p.m. at the water district office.