Drought forces state compliance order for water company

Due to the long and extreme drought conditions, the Bass Lake Water Company has joined the ranks of other water companies in the state that are in violation of the California Health and Safety Code according to the State Water Resources Control Board.

The company was ordered by the State Water Resources Control Board to curtail its diversion of water from the San Joaquin watershed in May 2014. The company’s water rights to divert surface water from the north fork of Willow Creek for domestic use dates back to 1923, but due to the drought pre-1914 rights supersedes those rights. However, the Bass Lake Water Company was given an exemption due to the health and safety of the community and was able to continue drawing water.

In October 2014 the state control board’s Division of Water issued a Compliance Order that due to the drought and the resulting limited supply of water the company was in violation of the California Health and Safety Code. The division determined in that not enough water was available from the company’s primary source of water, Willow Creek, and for that reason, a determination was made that the company does not have a reliable supply of water to serve its customers.

A letter sent to Bass Lake Water Company President Steve Welch stated the water company does not provide a reliable and adequate supply of pure, wholesome, healthful, and potable water, in that the water system does not have access to sufficient water to support its customers’ basic human health and safety needs.

The “Compliance Order” issued by the state does not require the company to cease using water from Willow Creek to provide for the basic health and safety needs of customers, but does require the company to take eight specific steps to prevent any new service connections and to secure a reliable long-term supply of water.

“Due to reduced creek flow, last Aug.1, we implemented a two day per week watering schedule (Stage 2 Conservation Rules) to conserve water and meet demand and had to restrict all outside watering (Stage 3) on Aug. 20 due to further reduced flow,” explained Bass Lake Water Company President Welch. “This situation continued until Oct. 1, when we once again went back to a two day per week watering schedule which is still in effect statewide. During that reduced period we were able to meet demand primarily from our groundwater sources and also provide adequate storage for any fire emergencies.”

“The first five of the Order’s conditions were met on-time in November,” Welch said. “We are working on the remainder now and anticipate we will be able to also comply with them in a timely manner. In 2009, we applied for a State Grant to fund the installation of meters on our 950 residential connections ... that application is still pending.”

“Successful implementation of the directives contained in the order will ensure compliance with California Safe Drinking Water Act,” said Kassy Chauhan in her letter to the company. Chauhan is a senior sanitary engineer with the Division of Drinking Water.

State stops new service connections

At the time of the order, the State Division of Drinking Water directed the Bass Lake Water Co. to take the following eight actions, of which the first five have already been completed.

1. The company shall not make any additional service connections to its water system, including any such service connections for which a “will serve” letter was issued at any time by the company. A “will serve” letter means any form of notice or agreement that the water company will supply water to a property or structure. (The company has asked for a clarification of this order because subdivisions in the service area will be served by wells, and not taking water from the creek).

2. The company shall identify any and all properties for which “will serve” letters have been issued, but a service connection has not been made.

3. The company will advise the owner(s) of those properties and all appropriate local planning agencies that the “will serve” letter issued for such property is null and void.

4. The company will provide the division the following documents: a) copies of all “will serve” letters issued by the company; b) a list of the property owners and applicable planning agencies it notified that its “will serve” letters are null and void; and c) a current list of all service connections, including the address of each.

5. To promote water conservation, the company shall provide the division a plan for limiting outdoor watering to no more than two days per week.

6. By April 17, 2015, the company must provide the division an extensive Source Capacity Planning Study, including the anticipated growth of the water company, estimates of the amount of water needed to meet demand, and the calculated amount of water the company can expect from Willow Creek, wells, and other sources.

7. The company shall provide quarterly progress reports regarding its plan for meeting the projected water demand.

8. If any of the customers served by the company have unmetered service connections or the water company does not employ a water rate structure based on metered water usage, the company shall provide by the end of December, an inventory of connections without water meters and a schedule for the installation of meters on those connections.