At the Idyllwild Water District’s workshop and study session Dec. 6, directors listened to Interim General Manager Jack Hoagland describe the current water and wastewater systems, discuss future capital projects and explain issues affecting revenue.
Following this presentation, directors Peter Szabadi, board vice president, Catherine Dearing and Steve Kunkle discussed the long-term needs for the systems, as well as the revenue requirements. President Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly and Director Geoffrey Caine were unable to attend the workshop.
Opening the workshop, Szabadi stated, “Its purpose was to discuss matters related to infrastructure, water and sewer, and increases needed for capital improvement, maintenance and upgrades and water conservation.”
Hoagland began with schematic maps of the Idyllwild system, based on elevation and location. “Most of our system is served by gravity,” he began, with the elevation map showing Foster Lake at the top.
The Foster Lake facilities, including wells, flow down to the lower zones, such as the Wildwood, Middle (the largest), Pine, Golden Rod, Tollgate and several others.
The entire water system is composed of 151,000 feet of water lines, more than 28 miles. Nearly 85 percent of the lines have been installed since 1974, which means about 22,000 feet of water delivery lines are older than 43 years, he noted.
Since 2000, only 3,270 feet of pipeline has been installed and nearly two-thirds was for the new Tollgate Tank.
The pipeline in the center of town from South Circle Drive along Village Center Drive was laid in the 1950s and “… is ready to be replaced. It’s high on our list,” he told the directors.
In discussing replacement criteria, Hoagland said pipe age, a history of leakage, and improving fire or just water flow, were the principal considerations. Also, as areas for replacement moved higher on the capital list, the district also worked with Caltrans and Riverside County Transportation so that installation did not occur immediately after a road or street has been resurfaced.
For the water-delivery system, Hoagland offered a 10-year plan with a current price tag of $4.9 million.
In the budget for 2018, Hoagland listed the recently completed work on South Circle and Bicknell, then the Village Center Drive pipeline, and either along Ridgeview to Village Center or pipeline from the Oakwood well to Jameson. These projects are estimated to cost $680,000. He assumed the cost-per-foot of pipeline installation would be $200.
By 2020, he identified several projects along Double View Drive, where old pipeline still rests in the ground. This would cost about $690,000 to replace 2,000 feet of pipe.
By 2023, he simply projected $400,000 annually for pipeline replacement.
Herb Bergstom, former IWD staff supervisor, said that much, not all, of the pipeline installation between 1973 and 2000 was accomplished with district staff. In response to a director’s question, he said he added staff during the summer to do more installation. The normal staff level was not large enough to install pipe year-round.
“You couldn’t dedicate them full-time to it,” he commented.
Szabadi said the district planned to a study about the different ways to accomplish more pipeline replacement and their relative costs.
Besides pipeline, the board also must consider projects to maintain reservoirs, pumping stations, and improvement or expansion of water supply.
His 10-year projection for these types of projects totaled another $2.7 million. In the 2018 budget, he plans to install radio-read water meters in the commercial area of the district and to replace another 200 meters. The installation of radio-read meters and replacement will continue for several years.
Well work is included in the priorities, as is replacing the aeration system at the Foster Lake facility. By 2020, he hopes to remove silt from Foster Lake and eventually to add another tank in the Wildwood area for $350,000.
The 10-year wastewater plan was projected to cost $800,000, which does not include funding for replacement of the wastewater plant. Hoagland anticipated that the district could get grant funding for this work.
After describing the capital projects, which he believes are necessary for service to customers, Hoagland then discussed the overall budgetary and revenue issues facing any board.
For example, nearly 90 percent of the district’s expenses are fixed. This includes labor, maintenance and regulatory compliance. The 10 percent of variable expense has very little variation.
Consequently, Hoagland argued that a pricing structure that relies mostly on water consumption would be high risk because of its volatility, although it would provide the best incentives for consumption during droughts.
“We’re in the business of selling water. If the governor or the Water Resources Control Board urges water reduction use, that has a big effect on our revenue,” Hoagland noted. As a result, the capital improvement budget is largely funded from the property tax receipts rather than water charges.
For every $50,000 of additional revenue the district would seek, water customers would have to pay about $30 per year or $2.50 per month in their bills. Further, relying on consumption rather than a base charge results in a highly volatile revenue stream since nearly 500 customers are vacation or second homes and monthly use is often negligible.
Hoagland also described how other districts fund their wastewater treatment programs. There are many different methods he shared.
“What is right for a community that is small? What is an acceptable method to have sufficient revenue to sustain the service?” he asked.
Szabadi acknowledged the necessity to justify the rates so that the district only charges for its actual cost of water provision.
Victor Jimenez, general manager for Fern Valley Water District, also attended the workshop and described FVWD’s current proposal for rate increases.
The public questions ranged from the cost of installing pipeline to comments about overall savings if the three Hill water districts were to combine.
“You must be able to save more than just the general manager salaries,” said Marge Muir, local realtor and Pine Cove resident.