State/federal arsenic standards could further depress Bridgeport economy
Bringing arsenic levels in Bridgeport’s drinking water in line with California state and federal regulations could seriously affect the community’s economy.
A presentation at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting by Bridgeport Public Utility District’s President, Ken Reynolds, brought the supervisors up to speed on this tightrope that Bridgeport is currently walking.
In 2006, the acceptable arsenic level in drinking water was changed from 50 parts/liter to 10 parts/liter. 2006 was also the last time Bridgeport raised water rates. Currently, one of Bridgeport’s wells is at 15 ppl and a second well is at 20 ppl.
“These are not dangerous levels and there are no health issues,” Reynolds told The Sheet. However, on Feb. 13, 2009 the community of Bridgeport was issued a non-compliance order for its levels of arsenic. Since then it has been working on a solution, however, today’s PUD Board has yet to come to consensus on how to solve the problem, which is why Reynolds brought the item to the attention of the Board.
In November 2012, a public meeting was held and a plan to build an Arsenic Treatment Facility was presented to those who attended. The facility would help the community come into compliance and get the state off its back. The facility would be paid for by a grant from the California Department of Public Health Safe Drinking Water Revolving Fund that the previous PUD Board had obtained.
According to Rob Anderson with R.O. Anderson Engineering, who helped the previous Board submit the plans for the grant and obtain preliminary commitment, the grant “would pay $1.4 million of a $1.8 million project.”
“Because we qualify as a Disadvantaged Community, this grant is an 80/20 grant, 80% grant funding and 20% no interest, 30 year loan funding the construction of the facility,” Reynolds said. He added that Bridgeport has spent $270,000 of its own money getting the grant in place, but 80% would be returned upon receipt of the grant.
Seems like a slam dunk, but as Reynolds explained on Tuesday, there is a catch to using the grant funds.
“The condition of obtaining this grant is to raise rates 75% above the existing rates,” Reynolds stated in his written presentation to the supervisors. “For residential customers the current rate is $64.26 [monthly] and would increase to $101.52. This would make the overall water/sewer rate $180.06 for residences. This is also contingent on eliminating the current Winter Standby Rate that is available to residential and commercial customers during the winter. This would go away, if not, then the residential customer’s rate would be $112.00, or $191.06 for water/sewer.”
The idea of eliminating the Winter Standby Rate, which allows businesses to pay less in the winter when business is slow, has been described as a burden by some business owners since their incomes drop in the winter and they use less water. A decision would have to be made whether or not to drop the standby rate, which could cause some businesses to shut their doors. The other alternative is to pass these additional extra costs on to residential customers.
“I know one business owner who pays $7,200 for water in the winter with the 40% standby, but without it her payment would be increased to $20,000,” explained Supervisor Tim Fesko. “This could be a real game changer for Bridgeport.”
The PUD Board will continue to grapple with the issue until it comes to consensus. If the consensus includes rate increases, they will have to go to the public for a vote under Prop 218, according to Reynolds and Mono County Counsel Marshall Rudolph. If the community does nothing, the state has several options. It can begin fining the community $1,000/day until it complies, and/or it can step in and take over the situation itself.
“The state wouldn’t just turn off the water, they would either fine us or insert a new operator that would implement new rates if the Bridgeport PUD can’t come to consensus,” Reynolds explained.
“We need economic development in our small towns,” Fesko concluded. “Bridgeport is already hurting and more closed businesses would be devastating.”
“The County has overlooked economic development in special districts,” agreed Supervisor Fred Stump.
“We will keep the Board informed when a consensus is reached,” promised Reynolds.
There is one misleading statement in Mr. Reynolds presentation. The 40% winter standby rate information is incorrect. My businesses are closed – no money coming in AND no one using the water/sewer. He stated we have reduced income, no it is NO income and reduced usage, no it is NO usage. I currently pay about $600/month for my closed businesses – it will go to over $2000/month – I don’t mind paying my “fair share” – but is that fair? Is it legal?