A new trenchless boring machine, short-term rentals’ water usage, and future water demand vs. water supply were big topics at the Fern Valley Water District Board of Directors meeting Friday, Aug. 20.
General Manager Victor Jimenez talked about the new pneumatic boring machine that drills a hole to provide connections under a street without having to dig a trench in the road. The 2021-22 budgeted machine cost $6,476 and was put to use immediately, according to Jimenez. He trained the staff how to use it and Assistant General Manager Jessica Priefer also participated.
Jimenez talked in detail about how it works, fielding numerous questions from the four directors. (One board seat was vacant after Jim Gates’ resignation.)
“It’s already paid for itself in just this one use,” said Jimenez.
In his report, Jimenez also said another hydrant had been installed the day before, and the paving of the Emergency Pipeline Project went well.
Director Walt Bonneau expressed concern that the average water “demand is at an all-time high” and asked Jimenez to what he might attribute this. This fiscal year since July 1, 2021, water usage is 112 gallons per minute compared to 95 GPM overall in FY 2020-21. In further comparison, in FY 2014-15, water usage was 66 GPM, according to Jimenez’s report.
Jimenez said, “It’s tough to say … We’ve been getting a lot of heat waves lately.”
But he also supposed it could be short-term rentals such as AirBnBs raising the production. This led to a long discussion on STRs and their effect on water supply in Fern Valley.
The directors generally had a negative reaction to STRs. The impact is “not just on water but on employment for people who work here,” said President Richard Schnetzer.
They discussed Riverside County’s Ordinance 927 and its upcoming revisions as something that will hopefully control STRs.
Schnetzer feels they are “disintegrating the community.” He said most households have one to four people whereas a STR can have eight to 12 people at a time. “That’s got to have an impact on us,” he added. He said his wife counted 15 cars at one STR on a weekend.
Raising STRs to Tier 2, a higher water rate, will be considered but FVWD needs an STR master list to determine where to apply it.
Jimenez said the tiers are applied on “the basis of the amount of water running through that meter” and that if they use enough water, they’ll automatically be in Tier 2. “Even as it stands right now, they’ll be paying more,” he said.
Schnetzer requested that Jimenez seek from the county the addresses of all the STRs. He also wanted Jimenez to “take a survey of other water districts to see if anyone has established any policies on this.” He asked Jimenez to place this on next month’s agenda.
Delinquent water bills also were discussed, in most cases water users being renters. Priefer said when the renter ignores attempts to reach them, she contacts the owner who often tells her the renter isn’t paying rent either.
Cumulatively, she said delinquent bills are about $24,000. Usually, the homeowner will pay the bill because “most homeowners don’t want to have a lien on their property,” said Bonneau. Priefer was directed to give a report at next month’s meeting.
Finding future sources of water will be an ongoing topic and Jimenez suggested next year’s budget include costs for a geologist to assist. He said as to future water sources, “… all we can really do is drill more wells.”
Director Robert Krieger said he believes in controlling water usage versus drilling more wells because, “We don’t have a big basin; we have a lot of small basins … Everybody on the Hill has that problem.”
As to how to know if a drill will produce a successful well, Krieger said the only way to know is to try it. But he has long believed that controlling water delivery is more sensible. “Make them sensitive to the quantity of water they’re using,” he said.
Jimenez said the creek water is drying up. “We’re going to be depending on wells soon.”
The board then discussed customers using cisterns to capture water for landscaping.
For the fourth quarter of FY 2020-2019 (April to June 2021), capital expenses were $572,391 compared to a budget of $383,500. The increase is because of the Emergency Pipeline Project at $341,840. This put total expenses at $1,538,951 compared to a budget of $1,385,320. Income was $1,698,307 compared to a budget of $1,596,050 resulting in a net income of $159,356 compared to a budget of $210,730.
Schnetzer set a special meeting for Tuesday, Aug. 24, to interview the two candidates for director, one of whom, Jon Brown, attended the regular meeting.