Several in the audience of the community water forum, held in the San Juan Bautista Mission parish center on Jan. 14, praised organizers of the meeting for sharing details about the city’s water situation.
“This is the best meeting we’ve ever had,” former Councilwoman Jolene Cosio said during a break in the two-hour meeting.
Much of the praise focused on the efforts of newly-hired San Juan Bautista Community Development Director Matt Orbach, whom Mayor Chris Martorana opened the meeting by introducing.
After he was directed to put on the Water Forum at the City Council's Dec. 20 meeting, Orbach went to work creating charts and handouts that display the water costs and fees, billing and other information.
After Orbach took a sip of city water, he outlined what the meeting would cover, including how water costs are billed, the status of the source of the city's water, along with its distribution and quality.
Michael Todrzak, of the company that supplies the Master Meter Multi-Jet meters that the city uses, showed the new devices and explained how they work.
“The meter, with the technology, is our claim to fame,” Todrzak said, adding that because a public works crew drives around the city to read each meter, it is more efficient.
The meter has leak protection and cannot be tampered with to change the reading, meaning “it cannot be outsmarted,” Todrzak said. The meter, he said, can measure as little as 1/16th of a gallon of usage.
Asked about how long the meter would last, Todrzak said the City of Tulare has been using the Master Meter for 17 years. But there is a plan in place to watch for the necessity for replacement beginning at around 10 years.
In October 2015, the State Water Resources Control Board sent a letter to the city directing it to provide additional water sources (up to an increase of 1.4 times the daily demand), adding an extra level of urgency to the need to obtain two new well sites and install two new wells (numbers 4 and 5), a project that the city has been working on for the past several years.
Water for the city is delivered 100 percent from groundwater, and it flows from southeast to the northwest. The daily water demand in 2015 was 200,225 gallons, using wells numbers 1, (built in 1946), and 2, (built in 1960), but not 3, (built in 1978), which remains offline due to the presence of high nitrates.
It was noted during the forum that because of the construction of two additional wells, to be built this year, the city will have the capacity to produce an average of 414,000 gallons per day, which will meet the city's future growth demands, as well.
“The two new wells will be quite a bit deeper,” City Manager Robert Grimsley said, and negotiations are ongoing with the property owner of well number 4.
Closing in on the debt
A former enterprise fund imbalance, and a 2006 infrastructure improvement loan, which was refinanced, has left a debt balance of $10.5 million, officials said.
In order to meet the debt service costs on that loan, according to the information given out at the forum, 54 percent of the water service charge and 40 percent of the sewer rates go toward debt.
Quality of the city water
Adding a bit of levity to the morning meeting, Ruben Lopez asked, “the sand and gravel that comes out of the water — is that what’s causing my hair to fall out?” He clarified that he sees the undissolved solids in the laundry and sink. A city councilman said that people without a screen on water pipes can expect to see small bits of sand and gravel in their water.
“We have the water tested every year. It is required for quality,” said Grimsley.
It was noted at the forum that the city's two-inch water pipes are outdated and will be replaced with four-inch pipes, which are the new standard.
Nitrates and water softeners
A few questions centered on the nitrates that come from agricultural runoff, the impact of broken septic systems, and salts that come from residential water softeners. It was learned that these issues caused violations of state rules, some of which have not yet been solved.
Installation of the city's pellet plant should reduce the solids violations, according to Grimsley.
Outlawing water softeners would need to come before the council, a member of the forum said.
The pellet plant is designed to help rid the water of salts and solids in the water, and a byproduct of the processing would be available for as a soil supplement and could also be used in concrete.
Is water safe?
An overarching message from the forum was that San Juan's water is safe to drink, hard water has a naturally high mineral content, and many other cities in the United States have hard water, which is not a health hazard.
“In fact, calcium and magnesium are an important part of your recommended diet,” according to the information handed out to the citizens attending the meeting.
Participants and attendees at the forum also noted the need for better communication between city officials and residents.
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