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ICSD Board Member Tim Carroll presides over a monthly meeting at Inyokern Town Hall. / Laura Austin Photo

IYK Community Services District is in dire financial straits

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher–  According to Tim Carroll, a spokesman for the Inyokern Community Service District (CSD), “THE CSD is in dire financial straits.” Carroll told the News Review that without some immediate assistance, the system would go under. He noted that they recently reached out to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and that the state agency has funding that will be available, but time is of the essence. Since agriculture is the biggest water user, the board agreed to request funding through their technical assistance program.

Carroll said they would only be able to stay afloat for a couple more months. Existing problems include the fact that most customers are not on meters, so they pay a flat rate of $36 per month. The few customers that are on meters complain that they should not be required to pay more than other residents.

Linda Sapp, a CSD customer, says that she is one of the few who has a meter, and her water bill for 2022 was $800 compared to the unmeasured customers of that same year paying only $360.72, for a difference of $539.28.

Sapp said that on July 17, 2023, she and her next-door neighbor were the only two customers still using water meters on her side of town. Sapp said that she attended a CSD meeting and requested to be put on the unmeasured monthly charge of the $36 currently being paid by most of her neighbors. In response to her request, Carroll sent a letter to the office secretary wherein he stated, “Because some meters are broken and not operating properly, 72 plus % does not mean that those customers with meters should not pay for the metered water used.”

Sapp said, “The CSD has been using broken meters, and the inability to get them either fixed or replaced has been an excuse for years. Some customers have been on the unmeasured rate for 5 to 10 years or longer, including the new and old members of the current waterboard. In addition, the board has said that in the future, we will all have new water meters and probably a new rate schedule, and the $9 they tacked onto our water bills was the result of their not tending to business with the Indian Wells Groundwater Authority. My question to the CSD is what broke the meters, how do we know what broke so many, and how are the remaining customers responsible for the cost of water being charged with meters over 40 years old when different water meters might have different units of measurement?”

Carroll said that the board had several online discussions with the USDA, and they are being most supportive. He says that they have expert evaluators who will review the CSD circumstances then a decision will be made concerning their priorities. He continued by saying that according to a spokesperson for the USDA, their department has been called on many occasions to help small water districts like Inyokern. An important factor is that the Inyokern Airport, the Inyokern Elementary School, CalTrans, and the Senior Citizens Park are all served by the CSD.

Carroll said that the CSD requires immediate help to replace at least 70 small residential water meters (5/8”). He stated that we had a long-standing problem of losing revenue on not being able to charge for water consumption as the older models have failed, and we have not kept up with replacing them. We have had many water leaks, which have preoccupied our water operator and maintenance staff, which is only one person half-time, and this person is leaving the CSD for a better employment situation. According to Carroll, the Indian Wells Valley has had grants and funding help for earthquakes and our basin’s sustainable water supply efforts under the State Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). We hope that the Groundwater Authority and the Groundwater Sustainability Act tasked with water management responsibilities are able to help ICSD with our small but crucial need to replace water meters.

Carroll said after meeting with the State Board on Tuesday, we are concerned that we may not fit any of their assistance programs because this is considered maintenance. There may be funds for consolidation but not for immediate help. However, waiting for the ICSD to fail can make consolidation more difficult and be very harmful to our community in the interim.

According to the Indian Wells Valley Water District, consolidation is not an option.