In a revision of last year’s plans to have Bass Lake residents in two county maintenance districts vote to consolidate their non-compliant water systems with a private company, the state and county offered up what was called a “golden opportunity” last week at the Pines Resort; a 100% grant to do so, with all work funded by the state.
Despite that, and though some residents called it a “great deal,” several said their concerns have been regularly ignored, and because the grant is fully funded and thus requires no vote, they are being forced into consolidation with a sour taste in their mouths.
“We all want you to have clean water,” Kassy Chauhan, Merced District Engineer with the State Water Resources Control Board told a crowd of about 75 at the Nov. 16 meeting. “We can make that happen. We have a 100% grant in place to fund all the capital costs, all the connection fees ... this is a golden opportunity. Do not let it pass by.”
“It’s a great deal but the county and state are acting like Big Brother,” said Trudie Troost, a Bass Lake resident and critic of the project. “It’s like ‘we know what’s best for you, and you’re going to take it.’ Even if it’s a good idea, it’s still a sour taste in my mouth. It’s like taking cough syrup. You know it’s going to help, but it still doesn’t taste good.”
For decades, water from wells in the Lake Shore (MD6) and Marina View (MD7) districts, both created in 1963 to serve a combined 130 homes, have contained high rates of arsenic, uranium, gross alpha, and manganese - carcinogenic substances that exceed federal compliance standards for safe drinking water.
The water was considered at least mostly safe to drink until 2006, when the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the allowable amounts of such substances, leading to a decade of undrinkable water in the districts.
If a liter of such water is consumed for 70 years, the chance of being diagnosed with cancer increases by 10%, Chauhan said. Since January, if residents in the districts live in the area for at least six months of the year, they’re eligible to receive bottled water from the county, Prakash said.
By June 18 of 2018, if the water is not brought into compliance with federal standards, Chauhan added residents in MD 6 and 7 could face citations and fines that accumulate every day.
“If you think the state is bad, it goes to a whole new level when you’re dealing with the U.S. EPA,” Chauhan said. “I don’t say that to scare you, or to use it for scare tactics, but I want you to realize those are very real possibilities.”
Last year, at a public meeting in July, the county and state laid out the initial consolidation plan for MD6 and 7 with Bass Lake Water Company (BLWC).
At that time, it was proposed the state would provide 80% of the project’s then cost of $3.493 million, with the remaining 20% covered by residents through a loan of 20 to 30 years.
County project engineer Alvina Prakash said Wednesday the 100% grant will instead bring MD6 and 7 water rates in line with the average rate for BLWC customers, at about $59 a month. All groups will then have an added $8 monthly charge for operations and maintenance, making monthly costs about $67 a month, or $808 a year. Annual rates are currently $564 in Lakeshore, $440 in Marina View, and $699 for BLWC customers.
The updated project, with a $6.233 million price tag, will include treatment systems, four miles of intertied pipelines, updated storage tanks, a booster pump station, and meters - a state mandate by 2025.
BLWC President Steve Welch said both his current 1,007 customers and the residents of MD6 and 7 would benefit from the consolidation.
“The advantage for BLWC customers is having an additional groundwater source in the case of an emergency, including drought conditions,” Welch said. “The advantages for (MD6 and 7) are an added surface water source from the BLWC system ... multiple sources of water with a consolidation provides redundancy to increase reliability for everyone.”
Chauhan said the improved water systems would lead to clean drinking water with higher pressure limits, and the possibility of lowered fire insurance rates given updated storage and the addition of hydrants as part of the work.
Prakash said the next steps are to complete funding and construction plans with the state, then take the project out to bid. After that is complete, expected sometime next year, construction can begin with an estimated completion date of 2019 to 2020. The state would be flexible on the 2018 compliance deadline, Chauhan said, as long as work is submitted to show the system is on its way to meeting federal standards.
She added the project was approved to move forward earlier this year by the Madera County Board of Supervisors.
A sour taste
Though some residents left the meeting in agreement with the project, others said officials have long ignored their concerns.
Bill Troost, a longtime critic of the plan and a resident of MD 6, said he was irritated consolidation is moving forward without allowing any choice for residents in either district to opt out, and that the county failed to provide enough notification to affected residents.
“Our concern is the process of things,” Troost said. “We have everything to lose on this deal. We should have discussions like these before the board votes. We’re enraged by that because why are we having this discussion if it’s already done?”
Troost said he submitted a petition signed by nearly every MD 6 resident in opposition of privatization earlier this year. Also, Troost said he and others paid for an attorney to request a meeting with the state and county to address their concerns.
“And nobody responded to us,” Troost said. “I object to this lack of a democratic process. I just feel this matter would need much more consideration.”
Chauhan said staff involved in the project have invested long hours answering questions and concerns. But she, and county Public Works Director Ahmad Alkhayatt, agreed it would be best to have additional meetings as the plan moves forward.
Troost and a handful of residents said they were considering appealing the project, as is their legal right, Chauhan said.
Details: Madera County Public Works Department, (559) 675-7811.
Full documentation of the project can be seen at madera-county.com/index.php/county-forms/.