A letter from the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) warning of potential curtailment of rights to divert water prompted the Garberville Sanitary District board to discuss several aspects of planning for water conservation in the event of severe water shortage this year.
At their regular monthly meeting last Monday, Jan. 27, the board and members of the public heard a report from GSD operations manager Ron Copenhafer outlining GSD's current water situation and the likelihood of shortages as the drought continues into the typically high-use summer months.
"In my years with the district, I've never seen the river this low at this time of year," Copenhafer said.
His written report states: "From July 1, 2013 to September 20, 2013 the river flow at Miranda went from 87 cfs [cubic feet per second] to 18 cfs. Currently the river is at 47 cfs."
[Note: the actual gauge measuring depth and flow of the South Fork Eel River is located under the freeway bridge just north of Sylvandale but is officially designated as the "Miranda gauge" by the National Weather Service.]
Under its current license and permit from SWRCB, GSD is allowed to withdraw surface water from the South Fork Eel River at a maximum rate of 0.75 cfs, (400,000 gallons per day if the district drew water at this rate constantly) as long as the withdrawal does not exceed 10 percent of the flow at the Miranda gauge.
Under these rules GSD's actual withdrawal, which averages 0.36 to 0.50 cfs, is safely within limits. GSD typically produces about 300,000 gallons of water per day, Copenhafer said.
Furthermore, GSD's raw water infiltration gallery is located eight feet below the riverbed so it draws subsurface water. But no one knows how much subsurface water is available since there is no way to measure it, Copenhafer added.
This means that while there is no immediate emergency for GSD and its ratepayers, if significant rain does not fall this spring, SWRCB may curtail water diversions under the complex structure of California water law, which combines riparian rights and appropriative rights, often resulting in confusion and conflict as to whose rights take precedence when there is not enough water to go around.
Business manager Tina Stillwell researched water conservation programs and included drafts of detailed customer notifications in the board's meeting packed as well as outlines of voluntary (Level 1) and mandatory (Level 2) water conservation programs, and guidelines to increasing the efficiency of district operations.
Board chair Rio Anderson was appointed as the board's representative on the planning committee, which makes him the water conservation coordinator, who will work with staff to develop a comprehensive plan, including a "water audit" of district operations, public outreach, and actions to respond to water shortages.
Board members agreed that fixing leaks is the first step in water conservation. Copenhafer told the board that as far as he knows none of GSD customers' water meters is leaking, and there is no surface indication of underground leaks.
The principal loss of water comes from the aging redwood Alderpoint Road storage tank, which was losing six gallons per minute when the leak was last measured, Copenhafer said.
At previous meetings, the board decided to wait until the drinking water treatment plant project is completed before embarking on replacement of the leaking tank. Last Tuesday, however, they decided to put tank replacement on the February action agenda and to tackle the project as soon as possible.
The board also discussed whether treated wastewater could be recycled for irrigation use, a measure many large public water districts are considering.
But in dry weather, GSD's wastewater plant, which was rebuilt in 2010, produces only 15 gallons of treated effluent per minute, not enough to make recycling cost-effective, Copenhafer noted.
"Consider that we are already recycling our wastewater indirectly," he pointed out. Wastewater percolates into the groundwater after treatment, and most of summertime water use goes into the ground in customers' gardens.
Capital projects manager Jennie Short summarized her written report on continuing construction of the new drinking water treatment plant in a sentence: "Construction is progressing well; we're making strides."
The project has a cash flow problem, however. Although the $3 million grant/loan funding package from the California Department of Health - Drinking Water Division (CDPH) has been approved, paperwork enabling actual payment of the invoices the district has submitted for work completed so far has been bogged down, so GSD has received no payments.
A CDPH representative told Short the delays were due to lack of personnel to handle all the work in the department. In the meantime, GSD has been paying its contractors with a bridge loan from the Redwood Community Action Agency, but the district is accumulating interest and loan fees.
Additionally, GSD owes SHN Engineering, the district's consulting engineers, $170,000. SHN has been paying its subcontractors out of its own pocket without charging GSD interest. Now one of the subcontractors is asking for a change order for additional work in the amount of $25,000.
After discussion the board unanimously moved to pay SHN $170,000 from GSD's $600,000 reserve account, and to authorize the $25,000 change order. The board also moved to send a strong letter to CDPH explaining the hardship the five-month delay in payment is causing this small services district in an economically disadvantaged community.
Eight persons applied for the position of GSD general manager, business manager Stillwell told the board. The personnel committee, comprised of board member Linda Broderson and key staff, will review the applications this week and set up interviews on Feb. 10. The personnel committee will make a recommendation for hiring the general manager at the next board meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 25.
Stillwell also reported she is working on a draft of GSD's application to the Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission to annex approximately 370 additional acres in various locations into the district's legal boundaries. She will present the draft at the February board meeting.
The board also voted to withdraw its pre-application to CDPH for planning and construction funding to connect the Rivercrest subdivision on Sprowel Creek Road to GSD's water treatment system.
Although the subdivision has been under a boil water advisory for several years and is eligible for a pre-planning grant, Rivercrest property owners unanimously oppose annexation and connection to GSD because they would have to pay 20 percent of the cost of construction, approximately $18,000 per household, and they are concerned about higher water bills once connected.
Although board members felt it is possible that the state will require Rivercrest to hook up to GSD within the next few years, chair Anderson expressed the unanimous feeling of the members when he said, "We won't pursue this without the consent of the Rivercrest property owners."
The final item of business was the appointment of board members to several committees. Currently only three of the five board seats are occupied, leaving a bare quorum and causing a shortage of potential committee members. Any person registered to vote within GSD's boundaries is eligible to apply for appointment to one of the vacant seats or to run for election in Novmeber, 2014.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 25, at 5 p.m. in the GSD office on the north side of Garberville. For more information, go to GSD's website, www.garbervillesd.org, or call the office during business hours, Monday through Thursday, at 923-9566.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNIE SHORT
Construction crews made good progress on Garberville Sanitary District's new drinking water treatment plant in January, setting the filters in place beside the holding tank that was installed in December, as well as being close to completing erection of the metal building. Work has also moved ahead on the raw water intake and preparation for installation of the new treated water storage tank.