Twenty years ago or so, citizens tried to tell the Inyo Supervisors not to let the Department of Water and Power dump town water systems on the County. The Board did it anyway as part of the Long Term Water Agreement. The idea was to find a way for southern Inyo residents to have affordable irrigation in an area over-pumped by DWP. Now, those systems have, as predicted, turned into a big problem.
During a routine inspection by the California Department of Health Services, it came to light that 44% of the water mains in Lone Pine are near the end of their useful life and the transmission main line in Independence is 84 years old and the distribution system is more than 40 years old. The State strongly recommended that Inyo County create a Capitol Improvement Project fund or the systems may not be adequate for future operations.
This news was not completely surprising to residents who sat through meetings in the 80s when LADWP was supposed to pay for upgrades to the water systems of Lone Pine, Independence and Laws before transferring them to Inyo County. The chain of events over this issue revealed that the systems were not properly upgraded. The County accepted the systems anyway.
Initially, there was a reserve fund but that has been spent. The State told Inyo Public Works that the systems need new meters, more storage capacity, new mains when possible, and a leak detection survey.
Interim Public Works Director Doug Wilson told the Inyo Supervisors that the State recommends millions in improvements. At the very least, the State said the County should make an annual contribution of more than $396,000 to a Capitol Improvement Fund. As Wilson said, the County has not been doing that and is behind.
Wilson and his staff will explore a number of options. Supervisors admitted they have done nothing in the past eight years and nothing was done to create a projects fund before that. Wilson said, “I believe the Board is concerned that we need to address this issue rather than waiting for a catastrophe.” The options will cost ratepayers. Wilson said they will explore an assessment district and issuance of bonds for immediate needs and rate increases for longer term needs.
Wilson said he will also look at every option in terms of grants or loans. He said, “No option is off the table.” In recent months the County had issued a Request for Proposals to have someone operate the three systems. Wilson said that’s problematic since the systems have so many problems.
Public Works will come back with more discussion and information on possibilities, as Wilson said, “sooner rather than later.”