A recent evaluation of county-owned water systems has local leaders looking for funds for repairs and a long-term solution to maintenance problems.
Interim Public Works Director Doug Wilson told the Board of Supervisors last week that the county’s three water systems – in Lone Pine, Independence and Laws – are in decent working order, but all three require costly improvements.
In a Sept. 4 report to the county, the California Department of Public Health, which evaluated the water systems, said the water systems had been adequately maintained, but about 44 percent of the Lone Pine system’s distribution mains are nearing the end of their lives and the water tank is in need of repairs. There were also concerns about a deteriorating transmission pipeline.
Wilson said the same recommendation was made for the Independence and Laws systems.
Total, Wilson said the State recommended more than $8.8 million worth of improvements to the water systems.
To meet the needs of the systems, the state recommended that the county create a capital improvements plan for the water systems, and provide $396,470 a year for projects. Wilson said that breaks down to $33,039 a month for the water systems. To make that kind of money available, each connection to the systems would have to pay an additional $35 a month, on top of current costs.
Currently, county water system rate payers are spending $25.99 a month for a basic service charge, with a $0.333 per 100 cubic feet of water as a commodity charge.
In all, the systems generate about $393,000 a year, but require approximately $457,000 per year to operate.
“It’s a serious problem,” Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes said. “There are two ways to handle it: preventative maintenance; or fix and repair the systems when there’s a break-down, which is what we’re doing now.”
Cervantes said the county could lease the water systems to a qualified operator, who will be responsible for maintenance and repairs, but finding an operator willing to take on the systems when so many repairs are already needed will be problematic.
“We need to address this, there’s no doubt about it,” Cervantes said. “Fortunately, I won’t be around,” he added, referencing the fact that his term on the board will expire in December.
Second District Supervisor Susan Cash said the county should conduct a study of current water rates, to see if users can carry some of the cost of repairs.
“Rate payers of the General Fund pay for this,” Cash said. “We’ve been grappling with this for years. We need to get the rate study done.” She added that the county did not budget for a rate study this year.
Wilson said he is looking into every possible avenue for maintenance and improvement funding, from state and federal grants, to low-cost loans.
Cervantes suggested the county look into a county-wide water bond to fund the projects.
Cash, a resident of Bishop, which has its own water system, said it would be unfair to ask every resident of the county to fund three water systems that serve just more than 2,300 people.
Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair Marty Fortney said the first thing the county should address is water rates.
The board voted to table the discussion and take it up at a later date when information on the cost of a rate study is available.