Valley News -

By Joe Naiman

EMWD situation included in ACWA consolidation panel


Last updated 1/10/2019 at 11:16pm

The Association of California Water Agencies’ fall conference in San Diego included a panel titled “A Conversation Concerning Consolidation,” and the experience of the Eastern Municipal Water District and the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District taking over the territory previously served by the County Water Company of Riverside was referenced as a successful consolidation effort.

Specific details of the 2015 consolidation were not included in the presentation provided by the panel consisting of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability co-founder and director Phoebe Seaton, California American Water president Richard Svindland, Provost and Pritchard consulting group vice president Heather Bashian and State Water Resources Control Board water partnership and consolidation coordinator Michelle Frederick, although Frederick cited the Riverside County effort as a voluntary consolidation success story. The annexation of the former private water company included state action to provide immunity to the successor districts and state grants to provide the updated infrastructure.

The County Water Company of Riverside had served 18 parcels totaling 68.09 acres and 140 customers in Wildomar and Menifee. The well which served County Water Company of Riverside customers had nitrate levels which exceeded state standards, and the well also failed to provide water to customers and did not meet fire flow standards. The Eastern Municipal Water District and the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District provided temporary connections, and the two water districts also agreed to annex the County Water Company of Riverside service area if they were provided immunity from prior operations. State legislation passed in 2014 exempted the Eastern, Elsinore Valley and Western water districts and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California from liability from County Water Company of Riverside operations. The Eastern Municipal Water District is a member of MWD and purchases imported water directly from MWD. The Western Municipal Water District is an MWD member and provides retail water sales of MWD supply to the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District as well as to the Rancho California Water District. The annexation into MWD was still subject to MWD’s annexation fee. The state Department of Public Health provided grants both to fund the planning and design of the infrastructure to provide water to the former County Water Company of Riverside customers and for the construction itself.

California has approximately 7,400 public water systems, and 90 percent of the water quality or fire suppression standard violations are in systems serving fewer than 500 customers. A community water system serves the same population on a year-round basis, including a mobile home park but not a campground, which is a transient non-community water system, and 77 percent of the state’s community water systems serve fewer than 1,000 connections.

Water quality violations deny the water system’s users their basic right to safe drinking water. Inadequate fire flow affects emergency response capability.

“Them not having the fire protection may impact you later on,” Frederick said.

Regardless of whether a successor serves the failing water system infrastructure upgrades are needed. Small disadvantaged community water systems and public schools are eligible for grant funding of up to $30,000 per connection if funding is available and grant funding for technical assistance can also be provided. Non-disadvantaged systems are eligible for a loan with a 1.8 percent interest rate although integrated regional water management funding, Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation grants and Community Development Block Grant allocations provide money which does not require repayment.

The state also has a consolidation incentive program to consolidate disadvantaged water systems with health violations. The program funds a water project of the receiving agency’s choice and provides a loan for up to $10 million at no interest – which equates to an approximate 30 percent grant.

“There are really fantastic voluntary things that are happening out there,” Frederick said.

For the state to propose mandatory consolidation the criteria include a disadvantaged system, a water quality or quantity violation and consolidation being a cost-effective solution.

“Will we do these, yes, we will. We don't want to,” Frederick said. “There are times when the public health impacts are greater.”

Alternatives may be available to mandatory consolidation.

“We need to come together to find solutions,” Frederick said. “I think there are a lot of opportunities to find collaboration.”

A service agreement rather than an actual annexation to a public agency avoids annexation fees and Local Agency Formation Commission processing fees.

“They are very expensive,” Frederick said of the fees. “It is an issue in some cases.”

An annexation fee covers both processing staff costs and the new area's share of buying into the existing infrastructure. LAFCO processing fees cover staff costs. In some cases a fee waiver may be granted.

“We have worked very closely with the LAFCO agencies,” Frederick said. “They have been very supportive on the whole.”

California American Water is a private management company, so an acquisition would involve infrastructure correction but not annexation fees.

“There’s no cookie cutter,” Svindland said of consolidations.

“It’s not always the best answer,” Seaton said. “Consolidation has to be the right consolidation, and it has to happen well.”

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at [email protected]


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