At their special meeting on June 22, the Burney Water Board (BWD) voted to lift the limitations on outdoor ornamental watering that had been in place since last year. Burney residents are no longer limited to watering two days a week.
This is pursuant to Governor Brown’s Executive Order B-37-16 “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life” and the subsequent California State Water Resources Board decision that:
Recognizing persistent yet less severe drought conditions throughout California, on May 18, 2016, the State Water Board adopted an emergency water conservation regulation that replaces the February 2 emergency regulation. The May 2016 regulation that will be in effect from June 2016 through January 2017 requires locally developed conservation standards based upon each agency’s specific circumstances. It replaces the prior percentage reduction-based water conservation standard with a localized “stress test” approach. These standards require local water agencies to ensure a three-year supply assuming three more dry years like the ones the state experienced from 2012 to 2015. Water agencies that would face shortages under three additional dry years will be required to meet a conservation standard equal to the amount of shortage.
The new state regulation was approved by the California Office of Administrative Law and went into effect on May 31, 2016. The state regulation will remain in effect until February 28, 2017
The June 21 BWD special meeting was held to discuss communications with BWD customers. (See Burney Water Board delays vote on rate hike). Unfortunately the meeting was scheduled on the same night as the second Public Hearing on Permanent Supportive Housing at the Veterans Hall, so some people who wanted to come were unable to attend.
After the housing meeting ended at 7:30, my wife Linda and I went to the BWD board meeting to see if it was still in session.
Board President Jim Hamlin and Board Members Tanya Taylor, Britta Rogers were present for the meeting making a quorum. Board members Roger Borkey and Fred Ryness were not present.
Two BWD customers, Kara Bowden and her mother, Kristie Jarrels, had come to the meeting to express their concerns about rising rates.
It is Bowden’s opinion that, “If you continue to raise rates, PGE and other companies that BWD supplies will have to raise their rates. This creates a vicious circle of rising rates. If rates rise to the point that people can’t afford them, they will move to places where they can and Burney will suffer.”
Bowden proposed that the Board find alternative ways to raise money for infrastructure and other costs without raising rates. As the discussion finished, Bowden said that she would try to develop a plan for some type of fundraising program.
BWD is in a tough spot. Already this year, they are $69,000 in the red. They have to provide good water, get the district on a sound financial footing, and maintain the integrity of the local district. They have done a study, developed a plan, and proposed a budget to accomplish these goals.
At the same time, the board members who were present are sympathetic to the plight of low and fixed-income residents for whom the rate increases present a difficulty. After the June 16 meeting, Board Director Willie Rodriguez met with Ann Wilburn and asked her to help come up with ideas to assist senior citizens with low income.
The Board also wants to improve communication with customers. They want to achieve a high degree of customer satisfaction.
After Bowden and Jarrels left, Linda and I stayed to discuss the situation. Linda said, “I know you need the money, but you can’t get blood from a turnip.”
The root of the problem is that the population of Burney has been declining and the Burney economy has not fully recovered from the economic downturn of 2008. Infrastructure needs remain the same even though the customer base has declined. Water pressure for the whole system needs to be maintained even if some vacant and absentee hemes are not using water. Also, under their new plan, the BWD is playing catch-up for decisions in the past which did not adequately plan for depreciation.
Regarding improved communications, Rodriquez and the Board discussed some suggestions that I had put in a letter. These included posting succinct summaries of the Director’s Report and the Pool Manager’s Report on the BWD website and using Facebook for notifications, feedback, and discussion amongst customers.
The Board also scheduled a meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Relations for June 24 at 6:30 p.m. The next Regular Board Meeting is scheduled for July 21. The Board plans to vote on the rate increase and the budget at that meeting.
A hard copy version of this article appeared in the Mountain Echo 6/28/16