The Calaveras Public Utility District (CPUD) hosted a public information meeting at the Mokelumne Town Hall Tuesday to discuss its proposed five-year plan to fund operations and capital replacements.
The proposal is to increase both base and usage rates by approximately 40% in the first year, and by about 70% of the current rate by July of 2023.
Ratepayers fund the expenses of operating, maintaining and improving the water system, which provides service to approximately 4,500 customers.
The last set of rate increases ended in 2016, yet system costs have been increasing each year due to inflation and maintenance expenses associated with an aging system, modernizing system components and meeting federal and state mandates for water quality testing and treatment, according to a pamphlet provided by CPUD.
At the meeting, district staff had corroded steel pipes on a display table to demonstrate the need for infrastructural upgrades.
“This came out of Highway 26 at Prindle Road,” Water Systems Superintendent Bret Beaudreau said, holding up a piece of pipe coated with an orange film and a flaking black petroleum tar. It’s part of a system of steel pipes in San Andreas and Mokelumne Hill that were installed in the 1940s. “It was leaking at 5 gallons per minute. Every steel pipe (in the district) looks like that. It reduces the water quality and reduces fire flow, so god forbid a structure is on fire, not only is this undersized at four inches, but that reduces the smoothness of the pipe and the internal diameter. It’s all bad.”
The replacement would be C900 PVC piping, Beaudreau said, holding up a thick blue plastic pipe.
“This is industry standard,” he said. “This has a very smooth interior; it’s not going to corrode. It will last over 100 years; it’s an excellent product. In today’s world, this is the best available technology.”
The plan also includes an upgrade on the district’s computer system, which was built in 1972, the same time the plant was constructed.
“The problem with the Eurotherm is it is only a data recorder and has very little brain strength,” Beaudreau said of the current software. “It’s clunky, like an old PC, only has so much memory, freezes up.”
If the funding is provided, that system would be replaced by a “programmable logic controller” – another industry standard for water and wastewater that would allow the operator to operate the plant remotely and help with data collecting to meet regulatory requirements, Beaudreau said.
Gary Ghio of Weber, Ghio & Associates, the district engineer, gave a presentation on the Water Rate Cost of Service Study.
The presentation began with a detailed look at the district’s audited finances from the past four years, which show that CPUD has been operating at a loss since 2015/2016.
“Without a rate increase, this is the type of loss the district is looking at; last year, almost a $900,000 loss,” Ghio said. “This year we will continue in the red.”
The event drew a chatty crowd.
Mokelumne Hill homeowner Mike Strobel said he would be protesting the rate increases, arguing that the district’s minimum usage charge was already too expensive.
“I’m against the rate hike. I’m on a fixed income,” Strobel told the Enterprise at the meeting. “We’re two people on Mi Wuk Trail. We use 3,000 gallons a month, but they charge me for 5,000 (the minimum). Let’s bank it and roll it over into the next month. That would be fair. That way I can save some of my water.”
Chat Soule, a Mokelumne Hill resident of 40 years, said what the district is requesting seems “acceptable” based on infrastructural needs, but that he wants more information on exactly how the money will be spent.
“Over the projected five years they’re going to need that money for infrastructure. Our water lines are old,” Soule said. “Do I want to pay more? No, like anybody else, (but) it’s expensive operating this equipment, and replacement has to be done. I hesitate to jump up right now and say ‘Yeah this is what they need.’ I want to know what they want to do with the money. I would like to see something a little more definite.”
District Manager Donna Leatherman said CPUD has been pursuing grant funding for future improvements that, if secured, could potentially forego rate increases laid out in the five-year plan, based on what the board decides.
“At this point, we have to set the stage to be ready for the work we need to do for all of the capital improvements,” Leatherman told the Enterprise. “We’re hoping to get those grants, but until we have those stamped and sealed, we can’t say we’re not going to do a rate increase in any of those five years at this point.”
CPUD will soon be sending out a survey to gauge the Median Household Income (MHI) for the district. According to a survey from 2017, the MHI for the area was $54,792, which is not considered to be disadvantaged, according to the State Water Board.
Leatherman thinks the actual number is lower, which could make the district eligible for grant funding.
As far as setting lower minimum water usage rates for homeowners that aren’t using all 5,000 of their monthly allotted gallons, “I foresee that coming in the next round of rate increases,” Leatherman said. That will depend on how the district adapts to future state regulations on water usage monitoring. “When we have a better study of the water usage and the states tells us what we can and can’t have, (new minimums may be discussed).”
CPUD will hold another meeting at the San Andreas Town Hall, 24 Church Hill Road, San Andreas on Thursday.
Homeowners are invited to provide written comments, but were specifically informed at the Tuesday meeting that no verbal commentary would be allowed until the public hearing on June 11 at the San Andreas Town Hall at 7 p.m.
Unless 50% of ratepayers submit written protests by that date, the board will hold a public hearing and vote on whether to advance the plan.
If adopted, the new rates will go into effect immediately, and will be reflected in the billing cycle beginning July 26.