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West Zone AVCSD customers granted 10 percent rate reduction for September days without water

The boil water restriction may have been lifted for the West Zone in Quincy, but finding the source that resulted in contaminated drinking water still stumps American Valley Community Services District administrators and personnel.

To help compensate West Zone customers for the boil water inconvenience, AVCSD directors voted to give ratepayers a 10 percent rate reduction to cover the time they were under the boil water notice.

The problem

While the contamination source is thought to be within a specific area, workers at AVCSD are going through the system — even private wells — attempting to find what caused the Sept. 20 drinking water E. coil contamination.

This was the second time this calendar year that West Zone residents have been put on a boil water notice. The first was discovered through testing in early June. The source of that contamination was almost immediately traced to a vandalized site.

But when a second round of contamination was discovered in September, AVCSD found they might have been a little better prepared for the process, but that preparation has revealed no source.

As part of this round of preparation, AVCSD even offered cases of bottled drinking water to customers in the West Zone. East Zone customers were not impacted by the boil water notice or possible contamination.

AVCSD General Manager Jim Doohan told directors at the regular Thursday, Oct. 10, meeting that the district gave away 2 1/2 pallets of water.

Going the extra distance in helping smooth over any dissatisfied customer feelings, directors discussed a reduction in that month’s water bill. The rate reduction would be based on the number of days customers had to observe the boil water situation.

“I’m asking you to come up with a reduction,” said AVCSD Business Manager Katie Nunn.

Throwing out a number, Nunn suggested a 20 percent reduction for West Zone customers.

Discussion

Director Mike Beatty quickly pointed out that landlords would receive the credit, while renters were the ones paying for it. Then just as quickly he said that renters would have to contact their landlords over the situation, solving his own concern.

“I personally am not making a recommendation,” Nunn said. She also asked if the district experienced even one day without water were directors thinking of giving a reduction?

The answer to that was “no.”

Each situation would be considered. Directors did not want customers to think the reduction was part of a new policy. Beatty said this is a case- by-case situation.

Director Bill Martin pointed out that AVCSD has customers that are commercial and customers in residential areas; his concern was that the district might be opening the door to becoming financially responsible for lost business. (During the boil water notice period restaurants and places offering food and drink could only serve customers boiled or bottled water. It also shut down soda dispensing machines. And Safeway had to throw out all fresh produce exposed to potentially contaminated water.)

This is a one-time gesture, Beatty said. “I think it’s totally appropriate.”

Director Kathy Felker said she wasn’t against the rate reduction but she pointed out that customers weren’t completely without water. They could still use the water for everything — showers, doing laundry, watering the lawn — they just had to boil it before drinking it. “I’m a little concerned about 20 percent,” she said.

Doing the math, Nunn said that would mean an $8,000 loss for AVCSD at 20 percent. That’s on top of costs related to the contamination hunt and the process required to thoroughly flush the system.

At length, Beatty recommended a vote on 20 percent. He and Director John Kolb voted in favor of it. The other five directors voted against it. (Directors Kim Kraul and Doug Ely were not present.)

Reducing the amount to 10 percent saw six directors voting approval. Martin abstained.

Before moving on to the next agenda item, Felker wanted to make it clear that this decision didn’t affect future situations.

Testing

Before discussing the one-time rate reduction, Doohan said the California Water Resources Control Board told AVCSD they had to do three extra samplings to make sure no levels of E. coil bacteria were present in the West Zone system.

Doohan said, “All the samples have been clean,” referring to two of the tests. They still had one test to go this week and didn’t anticipate any problems.

Doohan said that in attempting to discover the contamination source, the district even compared its list of private wells in the area to the list the county holds.

AVCSD discovered two private wells it didn’t know existed. The owners of those wells were immediately contacted, Doohan told directors. The owners were told they had to put in backflows to the wells to help protect the AVCSD system.

Policy

In working with the state DWR, it was pointed out that AVCSD needed to have a policy about releasing information to the public and the newspaper.

This policy would mean that AVCSD personnel and management couldn’t discuss a contamination problem outside the office or boardroom. All information would have to come through DWR.

Gin said that her partner Josh Nelson recommended that a concerted message be developed and all information had to go through one designated person — the general manager. According to Gin, Nelson said that the test results were released to the media prior to being released from the state. Nelson didn’t think that was appropriate.

Doohan did admit that the local newspaper did talk to the state representative from DWR. (In fact, news stories about the boil water notice did specify the sources of information — Doohan, Jerry Sipe from Plumas County Environmental Health, and DWR.)

Churchill said that this wasn’t going to be the last time that a boil water notice or other situation was going to occur. He agreed that protocol was needed.

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