Haulers air concerns to IWVWD

New bulk station presents new difficulties for users

Haulers air concerns to IWVWDBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Indian Wells Valley Water District’s upgraded bulk water hauling station is now operational, but not without its hitches according to many customers who attended the district’s board meeting on Monday.

The new metered system lets haulers draw precisely as much water as they wish from the well, with the draw operated by a computer and keypad. This system helps prevent overflow and waste while charging customers for the amount of water that they use, rather than a flat rate for all haulers.

“We’re all getting older. I physically cannot do what I used to be able to do,” said Sam Merk, who added that she spoke for many in the water hauling community as she addressed some of the physical barriers to operating the upgraded station.

Merk referred to herself as “vertically challenged” and said that she had trouble even seeing the display, which is five feet off the ground.

“There were two-and-a-half years of my life in the last 10 years that I was also in a wheel chair,” said Merk. “You are definitely vertically challenged when you’re in a wheelchair.”

She added that the screen is facing the south where it will get regular exposure to the sun and wind.

Cindy Dottery also commented on the height of the display, mentioning that she is four feet 11 inches tall. She said it took her and her husband to simultaneously hold the cover open, shield the display from the sun and punch in the numbers, which she couldn’t read.

District Operations Manager Jason Lillion prefaced his public comment by announcing that a fire hydrant had been made available to the haulers in light of the issues while the district determines how to resolve concerns.

In addition to the logistical issues, customers took issue with needing to pay for their water in advance. Most residential users, they said, can go two to three months without paying their bill before water is shut off. But if they make a water run and forget to pay in advance, they’re out of luck.

Director Stan Rajtora asked what the rationale was behind the prepayment system and General Manager Don Zdeba said it was just the way the system was set up to work.

“That’s not a very good answer,” said Rajtora.

“That’s how it came,” said District CFO Tyrell Staheli. “That’s the system that was built, that’s the system that was programmed. That’s what we purchased.”

“Did we investigate the option of having them pay the way the other 99 percent of customers pay when we were researching the design of that system?” asked Rajtora.

Staff members said they did not explore other payment methods as their options were limited and the agreed-upon system was the better of two available options.

The haulers also objected to their rate of $2.63 per hundred cubic feet of water (roughly 750 gallons), which is more than three times as much as typical Tier-1 water users. Zdeba pointed out that the haulers pay a fixed rate of $28.68 versus the $38.08 ready-to-serve charge for a typical residential user.

At 500 cubic feet per month – which is a bit less than the average residential consumer uses during the hot months, but higher than average for other months – haulers and residential users would pay roughly the same.

But for households of more than one person with an evaporative cooler, water haulers can end up paying more than Tier-1 water residential users.

Dottery added that costs associated with hauling, like maintenance on water trucks, only make the problem worse.

The rates were set as the result of a long-debated rate study completed last year. The majority of directors agreed that picking and choosing rates to change was contrary to the purpose of comprehensive rate studies.

But critics argued that the board or consultants could artificially steer the study toward whatever rates they wanted.

The boardmembers agreed that staff should look into ways to address the issue of prepayment and find out if it can be corrected through software or otherwise.

Pictured: Water hauler Cindy Dottery (right) shares upgraded bulk water station pictures that demonstrate her difficulties in operating the keypad — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-06-14