After a month on the job, Joe Blake, the new general manager of the Community Services District, presented plans for the district’s future last week. The July CSD board meeting also featured updates on the water treatment plant project and conservation efforts, and began the process for Mello-Roos financing for new development.
New GM hits the ground running
New GM Joe Blake reported that his “discovery period” has included riding his bike around the community in the evening, reading “at least, on average, 200 pages a day. ... I’m reading everything that goes back to 1912.” He told the board he has two nicknames already: “One is Joe ‘Mean’ Blake for telling people you can’t use water wildly, and the second one is Joe ‘Toilet Water’ Blake because the idea of ultra pure water, having drinking water available from the (waste) water plant stream, that causes a lot of people to be nervous.” He’s already gotten a reaction to the idea from a summer class he visited at Cosumnes River Elementary School.
Nevertheless, Blake predicted when the day arrives for CSD directors to take a blind taste test, “It is the best water that you’ll ever taste.”
Blake said his initial impressions of the district are it has a “hardworking and conscientious” staff and “most of our assets are at the end of their useful life.”
The first priority among the goals he outlined for the next year is the expansion and upgrade of the water treatment plant, a project that was underway when he arrived.
The other goals he outlined include upgrading accounting software, digitizing documents, increasing security measures for facilities, and utilizing computer-based monitoring with sensors in reservoirs, lakes, in distribution systems, and at plants “that tell us what’s happening.”
Blake intends to secure grant funding, and he’s adamant about accepting only grants that have no repayment or matching funds requirements so the upgrades can be done without passing on costs to the district and its ratepayers.
He anticipates receiving funding from Homeland Security by the end of the year to add badge access for employees, a high-definition camera network, fencing and other items since, at the present time, “the facilities aren’t protected to their requirements.”
He also wants to add solar power. “SMUD’s rates are one of the most expensive in the nation. ... The rates will continue to increase. ... We need to insulate ourselves from SMUD so we’ll have solar panels in the back. ... We could get rid of 90 percent of our electric bill,” Blake said.
Blake said state and federal regulators want CSD to provide “ultra pure” recycled water and “they’re willing to pay for it” with grants from the Bureau of Reclamation and the State Water Resource Board for the membrane technology that will be needed.
“We can ask people to conserve and we can have all the recycled water and ultra pure we want,” Blake said, “but if we don’t have a place to put it, it’s kind of self-defeating.”
He said a contractor is looking at “Calero and the rest of our reservoirs to map and see what could be the potential increase in storage -- another thing that the feds and the state want to pay for.”
Shallow lakes and ponds like Bass Lake and Laguna Joaquin that Blake termed “algae pits” could be redesigned to provide additional storage.
“We’re viewed (by regulators) as a success story, thanks to the team here, and particularly Ed and Darlene,” Blake said, referring to former general manager Ed Crouse and former assistant general manager Darlene Gillum.
With no debt and a history of successful recycled water use, the CSD is viewed as a “safe investment” that can “scale up” to become a “showcase” for other districts and the public, Blake said. “Here’s the important point: They have the money, they have to spend it. ... They can then say, ‘We have met the mandate (for) new storage, better technology, and we’re gonna help public health and safety as well as look to the future.’”
In the present environment, long-abandoned water storage ideas for the surrounding area are being resurrected, Blake said and “now they’re all on a mission from God to come here and say we want to do all these things. That’s great but we have to talk to the board because they’re saying, ‘Joe, we know you, we’d like to designate you as the lead agency for these things.’” The CSD has to understand what the project is, and the CSD contribution, he said.
Blake said he wanted to work with Dan Gallery, the water rights attorney for Rancho Murieta since 1969, to make sure there’s a matrix of water rights that shows every right and what it is. Concerning water rights, “there’s a lot of urban myths, legends here,” Blake remarked. Water rights are “worth money. ... We should know what we have,” and establish who could be potential customers or users,” he said. “We have to be very careful because we’re going to have to be forced to do conservation, but that’s a death spiral in terms of revenue for the district, so that’s why I’m keen on making sure we know what new revenue sources, whether it’s the developers like John Sullivan, or other people.”
In response to Director Mike Martel, who asked if the CSD could sell the abundance of water, Blake commented, “I already have people banging on my door, saying, ‘Joe, you’re our favorite person now.’ ... What we’re going to do is look at what again is the best revenue, the best use of that water.”
Drought update: Will Stage 2 return?
With the extreme drought persisting, the big news was a media release from the State Water Resources Control Board with emergency regulations to increase water conservation, Paul Siebensohn, director of field operations, said. “This is going to be mandatory through the Department of Water Resources. Outdoor restrictions are going to become mandatory, so we will probably have to go back to a Stage 2 drought.”
President Jerry Pasek disagreed, saying the mandatory aspects of the emergency regulations were already in place -- washing driveways, excess runoff.
“That’s always something that we require,” Siebensohn said, and added that the state goal is to use less water than in 2013 or achieve a 20 percent reduction. He said water production was 9.1 percent less than the five-year average and down 13.2 percent from metered usage compared to this time last year.
“The bigger issue is we have to not over-react,” General Manager Joe Blake said. “We’re on the right path. ... It still isn’t defined what the actual production should be. We’re a small district and we’ve been doing pretty well.”
Saying he was commenting as a member of the Regional Water Authority, Siebensohn pointed out that, of the 20 members, 15 are at 20 percent mandatory conservation and Rancho Murieta is the lowest at 10 percent “and that’s voluntary. So if the regulators look at us, it doesn’t bode well for the district. Come August 1, we may need to go back to a 20 percent goal and Stage 2.”
In response, Pasek asked where the reservoirs are at compared to last year at this time. “We’re slightly less than we were last year,” Siebensohn replied. “Our evaporation for the month of June was 9.2 inches, which is the most we have seen on recent record. Typically we have our highest evaporation months in July and August. This was June. Luckily July has been fairly mild.”
“I’m interested in what the regulators say is mandatory. Not their wish list, or what somebody else is doing,” Pasek said.
Rancho Murieta is now in Stage 1, which allows three watering days per week.
The irrigation cycle for Group A, the North, is Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Group B -- the South, Murieta Village and commercial properties -- can water Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The suggested schedule is between 5 and 10 a.m. The goal is a 10 percent conservation rate.
Free water-saving items available at the CSD include outdoor and indoor water conservation kits, moisture meters, shower timers and sprinkler screwdrivers. The district also offers rebates on high-efficiency clothes washers, water-saving toilets, drip systems and rotator head sprinkler systems.
Information about the rebates and water saving tips are available on the CSD web site, http://rmcsd.com/
Water treatment plant update
Moving toward construction of an upgraded and expanded water treatment plant, the board approved a proposal from Youngdahl Engineering for special inspection services for an amount not to exceed $34,547. The scope includes field and laboratory testing of construction materials for compliance with project plans, specifications and building code requirements.
General Manager Joe Blake expressed dissatisfaction over power availability, saying he wanted SMUD to provide power from two grids for the plant “so if one fails, you always have power.”
Although there are two feeds into Rancho Murieta, both don’t serve the plant, said Paul Siebensohn, director of field operations.
“I’m very unhappy with SMUD,” Blake said. “We have looked at their quality of power ... We don’t want to have a spike, over-voltage which can blow everything up, we don’t want to have sags. We have quite a bit of sag ... which means less life for pumps, compressors and related systems.”
Blake said he is talking with SMUD engineers about providing a service-level commitment.
Siebensohn noted that “there are two poles that constantly go out -- one at the water treatment plant, one at Bass Lake.” President Jerry Pasek said birds “just smack right into the lines” at the two locations because there’s nothing to warn them away.
Non-rep salary ranges adopted
The board voted to adopt new salary ranges for non-represented employees that reflect a 2.0 percent average change in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index. The salary ranges are based on a market salary survey of 20 agencies conducted by consultant Koff and Associates.
The adjustment to the salary range does not result in an automatic adjustment to any employee’s rate of pay unless the pay rate falls below the new salary range minimum, according to a memo from the Personnel Committee that appears in the meeting packet. In that case, the pay for performance manual the CSD uses allows an increase to the minimum of the range if the employee “is rated at least ‘meets standards’ on their last performance evaluation,” the memo reads.
Of the 10 positions identified in the survey, four -- security sergeant, director of field operations, director of administration and general manager -- are identified as below the minimum.
Mello-Roos financing first steps for new development
The board took the first steps toward setting up a community facilities district.
Acting on a provision of the Rancho North Properties and Murieta Gardens financing and services agreement with the CSD, the landowners have asked the CSD to form a community facilities district to levy special taxes and issue bonds according to the Mello-Roos Community Facilities District Act for $4 million of the landowners’ share of the water treatment plant expansion.
The landowners have provided a letter of credit for this amount so construction could proceed. The letter of credit would be replaced by the bond district, if it is formed by the September deadline.
The Mello-Roos Act lets the CSD form a community facilities district for public financing purposes. The taxes would be levied against the Rancho North/Murieta Gardens properties. The bonds for the district are not a liability for the CSD, ratepayers or other property owners.
The board approved agreements with Willdan Financial Services for special tax consultant services related to the formation of the Mello-Roos CFD and with Fulbright & Jaworski for bond counsel services, with funding to come from the Rancho North/Murieta Gardens landowners. The CSD will have its own financial advisor.
The CSD previously formed a community facilities district to finance infrastructure for the development of Murieta South. Homeowners paid the Mello-Roos tax on their property tax bill. The bonds for that district were retired last year, two years early.