Wants more information before expanding sewer district

After canceling their May meeting, Idyllwild Water District directors were sluggish and not ready to take any controversial action at their June 19 meeting.
Two items — annexing three properties into the sewer district and the fiscal year 2019-20 budget — were deferred to future sessions. Approval of a 10-hour, four-day work-week schedule for its field staff barely passed, 3-2. Essentially, General Manager Michael Creighton defined the issue as whether the board chose to trust him to manage the staff and to ensure the work was accomplished.
The standby fees for both the water and sewer districts, which evoked no controversy or any public comment, were approved. These remain at $30 per acre or parcel, as they have for many years. No one from the public spoke for or against the fees, and the board then unanimously approved them.

The directors had several concerns and suggestions about the FY 2019-20 budget, which Creighton was just presenting them. Since the board did not review the draft budget in May, several directors wanted another meeting to see how the proposed changes would be reflected before approving a preliminary budget.
Director Peter Szabadi was critical of the limited time to review and to approve the budget.
“I don’t like the process. There should have been a public session and then the board discusses the capital program choices,” he said.
Examples of some the changes included Director David Hunt’s recommendation to include funding for rehabilitating existing wells in the capital program, along with drilling new wells. Szabadi cautioned about testing for new wells too soon since the water table level remains abnormally high due to the abundant winter and spring precipitation.
Director Steve Kunkle questioned the need to buy large trucks for both the water and sewer departments as opposed to one vehicle, which could be shared by both departments. Several expected greater funding for pipeline replacement done by IWD staff.
And President Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly and others urged more money to ensure the horizontal wells above Foster Lake can be returned to service before next winter.
Overall, the proposed water budget for next FY, which begins July 1, would be $1.65 million, an increase of $150,000. Total revenue, including property taxes and standby fees, is anticipated to be $1.8 million, yielding a positive balance at the end of the year of $130,000.
For the sewer program, Creighton proposed a budget totaling nearly $600,000, with expected revenue of $815,000.
The capital improvement budgets are not included in the program totals. For water, Creighton requested $600,000, most of which would come from IWD reserves. For the sewer program, he requested $420,000, three-quarters of which would pay for sludge dewatering equipment.
The budget will be discussed at the special meeting scheduled for June 26.
For the current fiscal year, operating revenues have exceeded the district’s direct operating costs. For the water program, excluding its share of property taxes and the capital improvement program, revenues have been nearly $100,000 more than costs.
For the sewer programs, the revenues have been about $260,000 greater than costs.

Annexation to sewer district
In September 2018, former General Manager Jack Hoagland presented the board with a request that IWD annex three properties on Marion View Drive into the wastewater system. The properties are within the water district, but not in the sewer system.
No action was taken. Kunkle recommended the issue be tabled until there was more information about the potential demand on the sewer system from undeveloped lots already within the sewer system.
Although Creighton brought the issue back to the board, he wrote in his memorandum to the board, “Further review seems necessary to address any sewer annexations …” He added that there are a total of 692 lots within the sewer district, but only 585 are connected. Nearly 16 percent of eligible sewer customers are not yet connected and some may never connect.
Creighton told the board that adding three properties to the current sewer capacity would not make a difference. However, 107 properties in the district have the right to connect and that might make a difference. IWD does not have a plan that adequately evaluates the current system’s capacity. Further, the wastewater treatment facility is 50 years old and needs upgrading or replacing.
The state will be inspecting the wastewater treatment facilities this week, Creighton added.
The board took no action on the proposed annexation and Schelly asked Creighton to analyze the system and conduct a further review of the request.

Work schedule
The final item discussed was Creighton’s proposal to implement a four-day, 10-hour work day for the field staff. He argued that this would help with recruitments and improve morale for current employees, and had already been approved for office staff.
Directors asked questions about ensuring the office was open five days a week and how the four-day schedule would affect operations of the sewer plant and water projects requiring more than one person.
Creighton noted that other districts, even Fern Valley Water, were using this schedule. He was only proposing to use it from July 1 through September, and then evaluate staff performance and accomplishments to determine its merit.
While the directors were clearly skeptical and concerned about how it would affect customer service, it was approved 3-2. Schelly cast the deciding vote and stressed it was only a temporary change. In the fall, Creighton will have to convince the board that customers were not negatively affected and projects were not delayed.

Water production
In May, IWD produced 7.7 million gallons of water, which was 440,000 gallons (5.4 percent) less than May 2018.
For the first five months of 2019, total water production has been 35.8 million gallons. This volume is nearly 10 percent greater than the same period in 2018. More than 80 percent of the greater production occurred in January and February. The total production is the greatest amount since the same period in 2013.
Also in May, IWD began pumping water from its Foster Lake wells. Usage of this water had been substantially reduced because of the high levels of organic products in the wells.
This step has reduced the disinfectant by-product concentration, which are trihalomethanes (such as chloroform) and haloacetic acids that are formed from the reaction between chlorine, the purification chemical, and natural organic material in the water.
For several months, IWD has used its wells in town for the vast majority of its production.
The groundwater level of the Foster Lake wells fell 10 feet in May as production there resumed.
Creighton says the testing has shown that the new granulated carbon filter plant is successfully removing the organics and reducing halomethane concentrations. The latest test result indicated the concentrations are substantially lower and well within the permitted state amounts.
His latest readings for trihalomethanes indicated 17 micrograms per liter on lower Pine Crest Avenue, where the September reading was 14. The maximum contaminant level is 80. On Double View Drive, the THM reading was 6 micrograms.
For the haloacetic acids, Creighton reported a concentration of 12 micrograms per liter on Pine Crest Avenue compared to 5.6 level in September. On Double View Drive, the reading was 2 and the MCL is 60.