Water agency still unsure about canal break’s impact on rates

Customers say buying water would still be a must if rates went up
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer County Water Agency still isn’t talking about how an April 19 Bear River Canal break could affect customer rates, and customers are saying if rates went up there is not much they could do about it. Matt Young, director of customer services for PCWA, said untreated water is sold to customers by the miner’s inch. The summer irrigation service rates range from $28.11 to $54.71 a month. An additional $6.80 per month capital facilities charge is included in the bill. For commercial agriculture costumers summer irrigation rates range from $27.37 to $50.01 per month. Young said these customers have the same additional capital facilities charge. Young said no decisions have been made about how rates could be affected as a result of the canal break. “The only thing I would comment on with regard to that is that (the board is) evaluating,” Young said. “They are still making kind of a determination on things. Our main focus right now is making sure people still have water.” Ben Mavy represents District 5 on PCWA’s board of directors, which extends from the Lake Tahoe area to the city limits of Auburn. Mavy declined to comment on what solution he thought would be fair for customers in terms of rates. “I’m very concerned about having a fair rate structure, and so whatever the agency needs to do to be fair to all of our customers is what I’m going to support,” Mavy said. “We haven’t discussed anything. We don’t have any proposals from staff.” Mavy said he hasn’t heard any concerns from his constituents in regards to rates, but did hear some commercial agriculture customers say at the company’s May 10 public hearing that they don’t want to pay for water they are not receiving. Mavy declined to comment on whether he thinks customers will receive reimbursements, rate reductions or a rise in rates after the board makes its decision. “I imagine our board is going to be very interested in being as fair as possible with everybody,” he said. “I have been on the board for over two years now, and frankly, I don’t know from meeting to meeting where the board is going to go.” Mavy said the company won’t know what its financial responsibility is until after the final construction is done, because it expects bills from San Juan Water District and the city of Roseville for the water the agencies are providing for PCWA customers. PCWA is also pumping from the American River for its Zone 3 customers. PG&E has pledged up to $1.8 million for PCWA and Nevada Irrigation District to help with the companies’ water shortage related costs. Bill Artery, an Auburn resident and PCWA customer who was without water for 18 days after the canal break, said he doesn’t think customers will receive reimbursements for water shortages. “I would very surprised if there was any rate reduction or compensation at all,” Artery said. “I just don’t see that happening. The money situation the way it is now, the availability of cash to hand out to however many customers in a reduction, I just don’t think in this day and age it’s going to happen. Of course it would be nice, but I just don’t want to get my hopes up.” Artery said if rates were to go up, he would still have to buy the water. “It would not be a good thing, let me put it that way,” he said. “But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do what you have to do. It isn’t really practical to water my lawns, and animals and stuff like that off the well. So, the water is a big factor here for all of my neighbors. So, it would not be good (for rates to go up), but you got to do what you got to do.” Carol Scheiber, who is a cattle farmer in PCWA Service Zone 5 in West Lincoln, said she hasn’t been paying a bill because Zone 5 customers only pay if they get water. There is currently no water available in Zone 5. Scheiber said she hopes rates don’t go up as a way to balance out the costs resulting from the break, but she would still have to pay if they did. “Well I have to have the water, so I’m between a rock and a hard spot,” Scheiber said. “You are, I wouldn’t say at their mercy, but we need the water to keep the pasture green. We can hope for the best. It depends on the water year, but some years when there is not much water they raise them.” Lowell Jarvis is PCWA board chairman and director of District 3, which includes the City of Auburn, Loomis, Rocklin, Penryn, Newcastle and Ophir. Jarvis said PCWA General Manager Dave Breninger told him the board is set to discuss rates at the next meeting on June 2. The Journal asked Jarvis what he would think was fair in terms of rates if he were one of the customers being impacted by the break. “If I were one of the customers who didn’t receive water than I guess I would want to see if there were some kind of break … especially if I were harmed in some kind of way (by the shortage),” Jarvis said. Jarvis said he could not comment on how he would vote when it came to making a decision on rates. “That’s hard to say without having all the information in front of me at this time,” he said. “I think I need to keep an open mind, listen to the staff presentation. At some point we have to address it. We have to make sure we balance our annual budget. I know in this economy there isn’t a whole lot of public sentiment for increasing rates. I’m not really for increasing rates unless we absolutely have to.” Reach Bridget Jones at ------------------------------------------------------ How is Bear River Canal construction going? The construction on the area where the break occurred on the Bear River Canal is going better than expected, said Denny Boyles, spokesman for PG&E. “I think we are slightly ahead of schedule,” Boyles said. “We finished yesterday pouring what they call the bottom flume section. We poured the stabilization concrete, and we did the rebar forms and we poured what will be the bottom of the canal. And they are forming the walls, what will be the side of the canal when it’s fully operational.” Boyles said the company has also started work on a 42-inch bypass pipe as well. “We think that that should be operational early next week, maybe sooner,” he said. PG&E is also inspecting the remainder of the canal during construction. “They are making good use of the time by inspecting it, making use of any work we can do right now while there is no water running,” Boyles said. The company has been turning off the pump bringing water from the Bear River into the canal for 14 hours during the day because of construction, but is running it during the night and trucking water to PCWA canals during the day, Boyles said. Boyles said there is no specific cost for construction yet, but PG&E doesn’t plan to share that cost with its customers, PCWA or NID. “We have said that the customers won’t pay for this,” he said. “They won’t pay anything additional I should say. We have money for maintenance and construction, so we will figure out what we have to do. There won’t be any additional costs passed to the customers because of this.” ~Bridget Jones