Saturday, 01 October 2022

Water district gives standpipe users month-long reprieve

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Bill Winter of Lower Lake says he takes his truck with a 300-gallon tank to the Lower Lake County Water Works standpipe, in the background, every other day to augment his wells. Winter was one of several community members who appealed a decision to shut off the standpipe to the water district board Monday night. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


 

LOWER LAKE – Families in Morgan Valley who draw extra water for their homes from a water standpipe owned by the Lower Lake County Water Works won a brief reprieve Monday night.


In an emergency meeting, the water district's board of directors voted 4-0 to rescind a decision from its June 12 meeting to shut off the standpipe on July 1. Board Chair Frank Haas said the board took the action due to dropping levels in the district's wells.


The board extended the shutoff notice to July 31, saying they'll reevaluate their water conditions at that time. They also urged out-of-district water users who rely on the standpipe to attend a Wednesday meeting of the Highlands Water Co. to see if that district might offer them water.


General Manager Al Tubbs explained that his first obligation, according to state water law, is to his in-district customers. The Morgan Valley residents who use the standpipe are outside of the district, he explained, and can only be sold water if the district has a surplus.


The district's eight wells are now running 16 hours a day to serve about 900 hookups. Water use in the district hasn't changed, he said, but the supply has, with wells that once produced more than 200 gallons a minute now producing just over 110 gallons a minute.


Of the roughly 20 people who crowded into the small board room Monday, most were Morgan Valley water users, who were concerned that they hadn't been notified that there was an issue and were finding out with little notice. They said they are paying customers, although they're not within the district proper.


Tubbs said there are standpipe users who are not reporting usage, to the tune of 10,000 gallons in May that can't be tracked. Community member Torrie Quintero said the amount of water all the residential users take out of the standpipe can't account for all of that missing water.


Tubbs said the district can't account for another 467,000 gallons in May throughout the rest of the district. That amounts to a loss of 28 percent of the water the district pumps from its wells.


A central issue for most of those in attendance was commercial and construction trucks being allowed to draw heavily from the standpipe, using the potable water for spraying down roads and dust control. One of the decisions that came out of the meeting was to cut off commercial access to the standpipe as of Friday, June 29.


The board agreed that there was an emergency, and that it should extend the deadline for shutting off the pipe until they've conferred with Highlands Water Co. and evaluated water supply. Morgan Valley resident Bernice Britt said she spoke with Highlands officials, who said they would need to put in a standpipe to serve the residents.


Board member Frances Ransley said she sympathized with the water users, but added “you are taking your chances” when you buy land with a well and no other water source.


“I realize you guys are between a rock and a hard place,” she said.


Britt said she and her neighbors would like to be annexed to the district and will pay to do so. Quintero, Jo Cunningham and Rebecca Barnes-Lipman said after the meeting that they're working on an annexation application to the Local Area Formation Commission.


Tubbs suggested also issuing new keys to the current standpipe users, which the board voted to do.


Originally, the district reported that 28 families used the standpipe. Upon further research, they found they only had 12 active residential accounts and four commercial accounts, which means that 12 keys are being used but not being paid for or logging water usage. The new keys will stop that, said Tubbs.


Tubbs said he very concerned for his wells, that if they run draw he's concerned they won't recharge. He warned water users that in a month's time they still may be cut off, and that they needed to find other water sources as a backup. In-district customers also are receiving a conservation notice in their next billing.


“This is the future,” said Ransley, noting that conservation was becoming an issue for everyone.


Ellen Hardenburger asked that the district notify standpipe users quickly if an emergency situation – like the wells running dry – looks imminent. Hardenburger said water users weren't notified properly of the possible shutoff being discussed at the June 12 meeting.


Quintero said there's state law – such as Tubbs noted in serving the in-district water users first – and there's real life, which includes longtime standpipe availability. She said real life leads to new laws, and that everyone needs to communicate and work together to find solutions to issues like water availability.


Supervisor Ed Robey sat in on the meeting, and advised the board that, procedurally, they should rescind the previous shutoff order and make separate motions to extend the deadline, which they did.


Separately, the board voted to end commercial trucks' access to the standpipe as of June 29, issue new keys and evaluate standpipe water usage after another month.


Standpipe users are urged to attend the Highlands Water Co. meeting on Wednesday. For more information on time and location, call 994-2393.


Despite the sometime heated atmosphere of the meeting, residents thanked board members during and after the meeting for changing their mind. Outside the building after the meeting, Tubbs and Quintero even shared a hug.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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