Much of the Feb. 16 Idyllwild Water District (IWD) Board of Directors meeting was taken up with concerns of future supply and demand as both public members and directors debated over several issues.
Gene Schneider, an Idyllwild resident most of his life, expressed concern over the two housing projects before the Riverside County Planning Commission for approval — a 25-unit proposed motel or apartment complex, and a 12-unit hotel — both within IWD.
Schneider said Idyllwild is over-populated and he would like to see the people who can effect change show “restraint and respect for the environment … somehow, we need to contain this.”
“Right now, we have enough water for our customers,” said IWD President Charles Schelly.
Vice President Peter Szabadi told Schneider IWD is developing a new water shortage program.
Szabadi noted in Havener’s report what he called a “substantial increase” in the wastewater treatment plant’s (WWTP) flow. Havener reported an average of 0.093 million gallons per day (MGD) flow from July to December 2021 compared to 0.083 MGD flow from July 2020 to June 2021 (the figure drops to 0.081 MGD for July to December 2020, for a true comparison).
Havener argued that it’s not substantial. Szabadi asked, “Why is it up?” Havener responded that maybe more people are up here. He said it isn’t anything to get concerned about. “We’re not even at capacity.”
Szabadi directed the conversation back to the planning commission and a statement he heard at the recent hearing concerning the 25-unit project that Havener or his predecessor had reported IWD has only five equivalent dwelling units (EDU) available. (EDUs are units that can be provided a connection to a sewer system.)
“As far as I understand it,” Szabadi said, “that is not an exact figure. We don’t really have an exact number of additional units that may be added …”
Havener told him that to calculate an exact number would be expensive.
Former IWD Director Dave Hunt said IWD had more than 100 customers on sewer standby in May 2020. He said that number is now at 74 and that if IWD gives the two projects sewer, that leaves only 13 EDUs. He said that was “totally unfair” for the customers on standby.
Szabadi argued, “There really is no 75 EDUs … We’re probably running at only half [our] capacity.”
Schneider said, “The big picture is that Idyllwild is part and partial of what’s going on in the rest of the world. … especially the western United States” because of drought. “Even though you have the capacity [to approve a project] doesn’t mean you have to approve this project.”
“I share some of your same concerns,” said Szabadi, but he argued that IWD is not a land-use agency.
Hunt also argued that IWD should have gone into Stage 2 Conservation Stage in August or September 2021 because of its own adopted rules.
According to IWD’s water shortage ordinance online, Stage 1 requires a basic capacity ratio (BCR) of 0-50%. Stage 2’s BCR is 51-60%.
IWD General Manager Leo Havener, in his report, showed the BCR at 63% in August 2021 and 59% in September 2021.
The following month, however, the BCR dropped below 50% and remained below for the following months.
Hunt debated with directors over the issue pointing out that IWD had lost money because rates increase during a water stage increase.
Havener and Schelly argued that IWD did not want to raise rates during the COVID pandemic because customers were having a harder time paying their bills.
In January, IWD received $30,000 in state funding to help customers pay delinquent bills because of the COVID pandemic. Havener reported that only a few of the customers have not arranged for payments.
Havener also reported that all of the meters in IWD will be replaced. Director Steve Olson asked about the impact to customers. Havener said maybe 20 to 30 minutes.
Schneider, a local plumber, reported that many of the valves he’s worked on in the district are old and leaky. “Will that be taken into account?” he asked. “A lot of old valves haven’t been touched.”
Schelly told him the crews who replace the meters will be able to replace any valves at the same time. The company replacing the meters does not buy them back, according to Chief Financial Officer Hosny Shouman, so IWD will probably have to recycle them, according to Havener.
Also in January’s meeting, the board met in closed session to discuss the price and terms of purchasing The Courtyard Building, the first time the idea had been raised on an IWD agenda. In Havener’s report this month, he wrote that he hasn’t been able to locate any possible new offices. (IWD does own the office it is in now.)
Director Steve Kunkle asked that the search be put aside as there were so many other more important issues to tackle. None of the directors discussed the issue of why IWD is seeking another office. Schelly reported last month that he was not able to talk about it.
The board voted to hold a public hearing May 18 to discuss the draft of an employee manual and to accept public input on a water shortage plan rough draft.
It also voted to table a COVID Prevention Program because of various director concerns.
The board unanimously approved the same standby assessments for fiscal year 2022.