The Phillipsville Community Services District board of directors has determined that PCSD will allow bulk water sales for delivery outside district boundaries only to residences within "the Phillipsville area" during temporary emergencies.
This policy was included in the revised district ordinances unanimously approved by the PCSD board of directors at its monthly meeting last Wednesday, Aug. 7.
At that meeting the board also reviewed the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14 and considered adopting a tiered rate system that charges customers higher rates per unit (100 cubic feet or 748 gallons) the more water they use.
The directors also discussed responses to letters from state agencies regarding PCSD's water rights and compliance with California Department of Public Health regulations, as well as reporting on alleged tampering with the water system by a customer that resulted in temporary drainage of the tanks storing water from the district's spring.
PCSD, like many local water districts, has been struggling with the issue of bulk water sales to commercial water haulers who deliver potable water to customers beyond district boundaries.
On the one hand, these sales bring additional revenue into cash-strapped districts and may be the only source of water to rural property owners whose springs and wells dry up at summer's end, a situation made even more critical by this year's drought.
But on the other hand, the California State Water Resources Control Board does not allow districts to use their allocated rights to surface water - water drawn from streams, rivers, and lakes - outside their established "place of use," typically the district's legal boundaries.
Most jurisdictions were apparently unaware of this restriction until recently, when citizen complaints to the Department of Water Rights (DWR) triggered the curtailment of bulk water sales by public districts and mutual water companies that draw water from the South Fork Eel River.
Since the issue came up last spring, the PCSD board has researched the matter with state agencies and discussed various options at a series of board meetings.
PCSD has two sources of water, a well on the flat north of town and a spring on a hillside east of the Avenue of the Giants. The district draws no water directly from the South Fork or from any stream, but if the State Water Resources Control Board determines that either the well or spring divert water from "subterranean streams flowing through known and definite channels," then use of these sources would also be restricted to within PCSD's boundaries.
Board president Bonnie Mullaney reported that the owner of several rental units just a short distance from district boundaries asked to be allowed to buy bulk water from PCSD until she could re-establish water rights for her property with DWR.
The desire to help nearby landowners in temporary emergencies led to the board's decision to add an exception to the ordinance that restricts bulk water sales in temporary emergencies to residences "in the Phillipsville area."
Such exceptions will have to be reviewed by the board on a case-by-case basis.
Mullaney explained that while she sympathizes with people who find themselves without water, PCSD needs to protect its customers first.
Even if the state agrees that PCSD is not drawing surface water, the board still has doubts about the impacts of commercial bulk water sales on its ratepayers.
Those ratepayers face the likelihood of increased rates, as the board voted to recommend a new, tiered rate system that will generate enough revenue not only to maintain current operations but to cover future capital improvements.
A few years ago PCSD received a $2.5 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to rebuild its water treatment and delivery system.
But systems depreciate, and over time components must be replaced. Changing regulations and new technology, as well as potential growth, make it necessary for districts to put aside money for capital improvements.
"If we want to have a system in 50 years, we have to raise the funds for it," Mullaney said, pointing out that all grant funds are drying up as state and federal governments cut their budgets.
Furthermore, the California Department of Public Health requires water districts to have capital improvement plans.
With the help of John Van den Bergh of the California Rural Water Association, which provides free technical assistance to member agencies, PCSD developed a projection of capital improvement costs and a tiered rate system proposal to meet those costs as well as maintaining day-to-day operations.
With only 80 customers, PCSD is challenged to meet its financial needs while keeping rates reasonable and fair.
The rate system begins with a monthly base rate that is charged to every active connection regardless of how much water is used during the month.
Base rates are determined by the size of the meter. Nearly all connections in Phillipsville are one inch in diameter and will be charged $35 per month under this proposal.
Then a per-unit usage charge is added (a unit is 100 cubic feet, which is equal to 748 gallons). Customers will be charged 50 cents per unit for the first five units, or $2.50 for 500 cu. ft. For the next five units, up to 1000 cu. ft., the charge will be a dollar per unit.
Charges per unit continue to increase up to Tier 8. When usage reaches over 9,000 cu. ft., the customer will be charged $12 per unit.
Additionally, all rates will increase incrementally over five years. By the fifth year, the proposed base rate for a one-inch connection will be $49.10. The per-unit charge for the first 500 cu. ft. will be 82 cents, and the per-unit charge for Tier 8, 9001 cu. ft. or more will be $19.64 per unit.
In passing the motion, the board emphasized that this is only a recommendation. Under California Proposition 218, approved by the voters in 1996, a jurisdiction raising its fees or rates must hold a public hearing 30 days after notifying property owners of the change.
If more than 50 percent of the landowners protest the change in writing by that date, the rate change will fail. Otherwise the board may pass or revise the rate change at the public hearing, although they may revise the proposal after hearing other public comment.
PCSD has scheduled a separate hearing on the tiered rate proposal for Sept. 11 at 10 a.m. at the Phillipsville fire station. District staff planned to hand-deliver notices, including rate tables and an explanation of the proposed tiered rate system, to every home and business in the district last Friday, Aug. 9.
The board will also hold its regular public business meeting on Thursday, Sept. 5, at 5 p.m. at the fire hall. Time will be made available for public comment at that meeting as well.