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Water District waives $55K fee for  SSUSD

By Patricia Farris News Review Publisher–          The Indian Wells Valley Water District Board met in session on Thursday, November 10. An agenda item early in the meeting was a request from the Sierra Sands Unified School District (SSUSD) for a variance of $55,000 for the new Richmond school at Gateway.

The water district submitted a historical record drawing that showed an existing 13-inch pipeline that extended 800 feet past the termination point, which is currently where it ends.  The school district is requesting a variance in the cost of the capital facility and distribution fees.

The water district staff explained that the appeal from the school district is asking for the waving of three different fees.  A plan review fee has been paid.  We do not anticipate charging another plan check fee.  There is a distribution fee for the water line that is actually in the street that they would be connecting to.  They were initially charged that because we thought there was a line there.  Because there is no line there, the distribution fee goes away.  The other fee is the capital facility fee.  This is the fee to buy into the system because of the increased demand that the connection puts on the system.  That fee will still be in play.

If the school district does put in a 12-inch line or can put a covenant on the property on the other side of the street, then, if within the next ten years, that connects up to that line and pays the distribution fee, that fee can be passed on to the school district.

The capital facility fee would be there regardless and is charged to every new connection.  The fee is approximately $54,000.

Director Chuck Griffin said, “It is my feeling that the district was provided a built-to-design set of plans. I feel they took an as-built drawing and had a plan design.”  He continued, “I understand when the plan was submitted to us, there is a clause stating that it does not constitute any utilities that may be there, but I feel as a district, we should help them.”  His opinion is that “we should give them the $55,000. They are paying out of pocket at least $25,000 more than they had planned.”  He said the reason is that they were told there was a line there when they had the plans drawn.

“I believe we should help them out and if we do, I want to say there is no clause that goes for ten years,” said Griffin.  He just wanted to waive that fee.  “If anybody hooks on in the future, the water district gains 800 feet of pipeline.” This enables them to add new customers, which will benefit the water district.  Griffin made a motion to that effect, and the motion carried.

The new water district manager, George Croll, addressed the board regarding a new solar project that was going in off US 395 and West Inyokern Road.  The solar company said they would offer the community residents the ability to buy power from them at a discounted rate of about 10 percent.  They are requesting a letter of support from the district.

Director Ron Kicinski stated that “from a water standpoint, that is an important issue.”  He continued, “During the building phase, doing the cleaning doesn’t take a lot of water, but it does take some.  So, should we be putting our stamp of approval on something when we don’t know what the water requirements are?”  Kicinski continued, “Since it’s not really in the district’s boundary, maybe it’s the groundwater authority (GA) they should be getting a letter from.”

Director Stan Rajtora said, “It is my understanding that the GA and the hospital have sent letters of support.”

It was generally agreed among the board members not to send a letter of support but to direct them through the GA.

Director Griffin, a representative on the GA board for the water district, reported on the September 14 GA meeting.  He stated there was a request for government funding for the pipeline project.  “It appears to me that what they are looking for, and I was assured that it would not be endorsing the project, but they were only going to seek funding from Congress for the pipeline at a 75 percent rate.  All we voted for was to seek funding.  I felt it was proper for me to vote to seek funding and to know whether there was to be funding from Congress or not.  I did not want to be looked at as though we did not want to know all the options.  As a district, I do think we want to know if this is available, so I made the choice to vote yes.”

Griffin continued, “I want to see if Congress will fund it and at that time then ask then Speaker McCarthy if he would support it.  I would like to know how he feels and if he supports it.”

For the next GA meeting, Griffin said, “There is an item on the agenda that concerns me and that is the wastewater issue.  I thought they had discussed that and said it was not viable.  Now it looks like they are looking for a new funding source.  They are authorizing the board to look for $3.9 million.  That is additional funding for design.  They are looking for private funding – not a grant.”

Director Kicinski asked this in regards to the budget: “How is the money they borrowed from the Replenishment Fee to put on the pumping fee to pay this bill?”  He also asked, “How is this going to be paid?  How is all the money taken in for Replenishment Fees going to be paid back?”

Director Rajtora said, “I find it interesting regarding that loan application for the pipeline.  We sent a letter to the GA asking for some financial data.  We got a letter back from the general manager saying that they did not need to discuss where they were going to get a loan to pay off the money that wasn’t in the grant because all the money for the capital is going to come from the grants.”

“Then it wasn’t two weeks later when the GA voted to go after a government grant that was 75 percent rather than the 100 percent the general manager told us we were going to do.  So, it sounds like the right hand and the left hand are not talking to each other. I have always thought there were some communication issues regarding who is really controlling who is there,” Rajtora said.

Tim Parker, consulting hydrogeologist for the water district, came to the podium and gave the following report:  “Back in 2017, I was committed to having the basin floor covered with airborne electromagnetics.  It’s a geophysical method.  This resulted in the work being incorporated into a pilot project that, in the Stanford study, was funded by the state to determine how good a method that was for mapping aquifers.

“The other two pilots confirmed that, and a contract was let to Rambo and SkyTEM to conduct statewide surveys of the state’s high-priority SIGMA basins.

“Another thing that happened was that, in full disclosure, I am an employee of Rambo and I ended up being a licensed geologist on that and later the project director.  I am very pleased to say that the Department of Water Resources (DWR), now a statewide project, is going to fly again in the Indian Wells Valley as a part of the Regional Aquifer Mapping Project.  That is going to occur in early November.  It is tentatively scheduled for November 4 and 5 and may go on into the next week.  I am still working closely with the Navy regarding the access on that.  But it’s great having more information.  That information was very useful in better understanding the aquifer system, and it will.”

“I left out the purpose of that,” Parker said.  “The district has been looking at the brackish water for a number of years and that was the main purpose for the study.  If you are interested in the information, google vwr-aem.”

President of the board, Mallory Boyd, asked Parker if there have been inquiries from the technical experts that the GA depends on regarding this technology, specifically Stetson.  Parker said, “Not that I am aware of.”

The water board meets on the first Monday of every month.