On Monday, April 24, 2023, I attended the Anderson Valley Community Services District (AVCSD) Water Planning Project meeting at the firehouse in Boonville. In attendance were two representatives of SAFER (California’s safe and affordable water funding arm), a representative from the Rural Communities Assistance Corporation, the head of Mendocino County Planning and Building, Julia Krog, the representative for District Three of the Drinking Water Field Operations, Zack Rounds, two engineers from Brelje & Race, the engineers hired by the AVCSD for this project and Chief Andres Avila of the Anderson Valley Volunteer Fire Department. There were a number of locals townspeople in attendance at the firehouse as well people in attendance via Zoom.
What follows is my best attempt at recording the questions and answers from this meeting. The one thing that struck me strongest is that there is still a lot of misinformation out there. I, myself, had a misunderstanding and I’ve been following this process for the past eight years. The biggest misunderstanding is around cost. The State has the funds for this project and so long as it gets underway before those funds dry up there is no cost. Let me state this clearly: if a residential property owner signs up at the beginning there is no cost to the property owner for the first meter and corresponding infrastructure.
Q. How many meters for a property if there is more than one house?
A. The first meter is paid for; any other meters will need to be paid for by the property owner. Each house could be metered with its own service lateral (estimated cost $6,500); alternately, each house could have sub-meter to determine how much water each home is using and the bill split accordingly.
Q. What if a property owner elects to join later, what is the cost then?
A. There would be a connection fee that would include buying into the whole system and there would not be any State money for this late connection. [Note: this is likely where the $30,000 estimate is coming from, though no number was actually provided at this meeting.]
Q. What will the cost be to commercial property owners?
A. The meter to the commercial structure will be paid for; the lateral from the meter to the commercial structure(s) will not be covered and will be the landowner’s responsibility. [Note: It is likely for those commercial property owners that there will be contractors in the area doing this work and a potential price break may be available from those contractors.]
Q. Are commercial water rates going to be different than residential rates?
A. No, the water rates are based on the meter size; the standard meter is one-inch and, so far at least, all the existing commercial structures can get by with the one-inch meter.
Q. If a property owner joins the water system at the beginning will any future buildings be included?
A. The State prioritizes residential buildings first and only those in existence, not those in the pre-building process. But there would be no new cost so long as the new building was with in the 10% excess that the State allows (and so long as the 1” meter remains).
Q. Does the zoning of a parcel matter, meaning, what if I’m zoned Commercial but the use is residential?
A. So long as the use is residential the State funding will cover the costs.
Q. When will this happen?
A. Construction is slated for 2026 and will take two construction seasons to complete.
Q. Will the one-inch meter be sufficient for the new fire sprinkler requirements?
A. The one-inch meter will both be enough for the fire sprinklers, it will also be enough for multiple residences. It will be unusual if a property has to upgrade to a larger meter.
Q. What will the water pressure be?
A. The location of the storage tanks at the south end of the Valley and on a hilltop means that the pressure will be 70 psi and up; in fact, farther down the line there will be pressure reducers to keep the psi at 80 or less.
Q. Will the AVCSD turn this over to a different entity in the future?
A. The AVCSD will contract with a private company to administer the system; the costs of this are included in the estimated costs/budget/rates. The factor that will have the largest impact on rates is going to be participation in the system - the more participants, the lower the rates.
Q. Where is the water supply going to come from?
A. Water will come from existing private wells and some new wells. The exact location is not public information at this time but when the new wells go in they will be made public.
Q. Will this increase ground water pumping?
A. The amount of pumping shouldn’t be more than it was previously; the system and the wells will be monitored. There will be continued tests for potential new wells but there will not be any testing to check neighboring wells.
Q. What is the incentive not to waste water?
A. Rates themselves are incentives. Initially, there will be no tier system but as water use is tracked a tier system likely will be developed which will also incentivize saving water.
Q. Where are the wells located?
A. The wells are within the bounds of the water system. They are not really close to any existing wells so they should not have an impact on those existing wells. Also, pumping will rotate between the different wells, allowing for resting periods for each well.
Q. Are there any water quality issues?
A. Water will be tested for quality; certain minerals will be removed and no contaminants will be allowed.
Q. How will future repairs/maintenance be paid for?
A. Rates will include money for maintenance and future repairs and this money will be dedicated to this use and no other.
Q. Will there be any financial aid for businesses? Particularly low-income businesses?
A. At this time, no. There may be a possibility of a Small Business Administration loan or some such. The only cost will be for the lateral from the meter to the business.
Q. Who determines the rate structure?
A. The engineers will determine the rate structure based on the results of the Yes/No vote that property owners in the system will be doing. Per Proposition 218, if a property owner does not return a ballot then they are assumed to be a Yes vote. As mentioned previously, the greater the number of participants, the lower the rates.
Q. When will the vote take place?
A. By the end of this year; it will be a ballot that comes in the mail. There is one vote per parcel.
Q. What are the regulatory consequences for a business to not hook up?
A. There are 17 businesses in the system that have to provide safe drinking water to the public. If they are hooked to the new system then their water will be considered safe to drink. If they do not, they will have to: monitor their water system and provide reports to the State; keep the water system in compliance; there are also storage requirements. The representative from District Three emphasized considering what could happen - what if there’s another drought? What if water regulations change? Belonging to the water system alleviates these concerns.
Q. What is the storage like for this system?
A. There will be 360,000 gallons, stored in two large steel tanks that will be bolted onto a slab.
Q. Will there be very low income rates?
A. This will be up to the AVCSD board but this has not been considered so far.
Q. Can you join the system and then back out?
A. There is no contract but there will be rules and regulations that cover what will happen if you leave the system, though what these will be has not yet been discussed. In general, the State standards, not the County, will govern the system.
Q. Will Agriculture ever be included?
Q. How will fire damage or water main breaks affect rates?
A. The tank material (steel) plus the location set up will make fire damage unlikely (fires in other areas have shown that paint on the exterior of the tanks is the main damage). Water main breaks will likely be caught early through the monitoring system and the maintenance fund will cover this kind of repair.
Q. Regarding Meadow Estates (the housing area behind the high school and airport), will there be additional noise or lights?
A. Everything will be in a building for treatment, keeping most noise inside. There will be some “on demand” lighting and a few small storage tanks, plus a generator for when the power is off.
Q. What are the milestones between now and 2026?
A. Public outreach - what does the community want? Finalizing rate options. Environmental impacts of both the water and sewer systems will be completed later this year and the AVCSD will have to plan for any required mitigation. Once this is all done, the AVCSD will finalize the application to the State for the funding; this process will likely take a year. Once the funding is awarded then the planning effort can be finished and construction bids obtained. Then there will be testing and drilling of wells and making sure there’s enough water. Rates, which will be determined later this year ahead of the vote, will have to be approved. The larger the participation then the more money the State will provide.