CSD hears complaints about midge flies, offers first look at 2012-13 rates

[News brief posted March 22] A dozen people turned out for the Community Services District meeting Wednesday to urge the board to continue effort to address the chronic warm-weather problem of midge flies around Laguna Joaquin. The request coincided with the board’s consideration of a draft budget for 2012-2013.

Midge flies at Laguna Joaquin

During a 45-minute discussion, residents told the board about the continuing problem with midge flies around Laguna Joaquin. The insect doesn’t bite, but the swarms that emerge during warm-weather months are a nuisance to people who live in the area or use the common area. At the request of residents, the CSD has treated the drainage basin for years to address the infestations.

Costs ranged as high as $3,500 per treatment, for a total expenditure of $13,000 per season, before the CSD found a less expensive treatment that cut costs to $750 per application, for a total seasonal cost of $3,000, according to General Manager Ed Crouse. Although Crouse said the less expensive treatment produced “mixed results,” residents who spoke at the meeting described last year’s treatments as successful. The treatments target midge fly larvae on the lake bottom.

Resident Alex Thompson asked if the lake could be treated “proactively” to eliminate the swarms, and Director Steve Mobley explained that the life cycle of the midge fly means treatments have to be “complaint-driven. ... It’s an ongoing battle. It’s never going to stop.” Mobley said he doesn’t live on the lake, but often jogs there. “I choke on all those bugs, just like you’re talking about,” he told the group.

Resident Lou Lopez said the summertime infestations mean “we’re trapped in our townhouses.”

Director of Field Operations Paul Siebensohn said there is “no silver bullet” for the insect problem, and water quality issues contribute to it.  He said runoff from over-fertilized and overwatered landscaping contributes to the making of a “nutrient soup” that feeds algae and helps the nuisance populations of midge flies develop.

Several directors said they would like Murieta Townhouses Inc. and the Rancho Murieta Association to consider sharing the cost of treating the insect problem with the CSD. “Everybody’s budgets are getting squeezed,” Mobley said. Lopez and Thompson, both MTI board members, said they would bring the matter to their board and report back to the CSD.  Crouse asked the residents to let the CSD know as soon as they see the midge flies start to come out.

2012-13 draft budget

The board directed staff to move forward with a “worst-case” budget that would increase the average monthly residential bill for security, water, sewer, drainage and trash collection services a maximum staff estimated at 6.3 to 6.5 percent. CSD customers will receive a letter in early April notifying them of the proposed rate increases and a hearing on the increases in May. The board emphasized it would continue to try to cut the proposed increase before adopting the 2012-13 budget in June.

Director Of Administration Darlene Gillum began the lengthy budget discussion with an overview of increases in the operation budget for all departments that total 3.5 percent, for a total projected budget of $5.2 million. Factors that play a role in the increase include a reduction in property tax revenues, increases in the cost of chemicals, postage and other items, and no growth. There isn’t much that can be done about the 3.5 percent increase, Gillum said, but she sought board direction on special items the board has previously approved that brought the projected increase to 9.4 percent. These included advance funding for permanent irrigation fields that use reclaimed water and the rehabilitation of a water treatment plant, and funding a plan to address drinking water taste and odor complaints.

After more than an hour of discussion, the board directed staff to drop pre-funding for the permanent irrigation fields to reduce the budget increase.  Permitting for the present temporary system expires in December 2014. Director Jerry Pasek advocated challenging the regulatory requirement for permanent fields,  saying he has “great consternation” about spending $2.5 million for a permanent installation that may never be used or needed. “That’s what you’re here for, to appeal once in a while, not just to roll over and play dead for the state,” he told President Bobbi Belton.

The temporary fields were used to reduce carryover storage at the wastewater treatment plant that occurred when the CSD was unable to make recycled water deliveries to the Country Club for most of the irrigation season in 2003. The problem became part of the cease and desist order issued by a regulatory agency.

General Manager Ed Crouse said 60 percent of the permanent irrigation field would function as “a safety valve” in case the amount of reclaimed wastewater exceeded what the Country Club used for the golf courses, and the rest had been planned for the disposal of wastewater generated by the next phase of development. 

Crouse said the CSD will require the use of recycled water in new development, so the next phase of development will use recycled water when it becomes available instead of using permanent irrigation fields at the VanVleck ranch. But availability depends on “how fast there is development, whether we can get the recycled water pipelines in place and have enough water for them to use,” Crouse said. He characterized the irrigation fields as “a safety valve issue” and also “a bridge between when they start developing and when there’s sufficient wastewater disposal either from a quantity standpoint or facility construction standpoint.”   

The board supported continuing the pre-funding effort for a $1.5 million rehabilitation of the water treatment plant. The rehab may be needed if new development doesn’t occur to fund the building of a new water treatment plant, Gillum said. If development does occur, the CSD commitment to spend $1.5 million on the rehabilitation will become its “fair share” of the cost for the new plant. 

Budget relief came from an unexpected source. Gillum said the district is paying $6 in bank charges for each customer who pays by credit card, which adds 73 cents to everyone’s monthly bill. If the cost of using a credit card is paid by the user, the district will recoup $24,000 annually, Gillum said, which would help to offset a $33,000 reduction in property tax revenue. Staff was directed to proceed with the user fee and bring the matter back to the board.

Pasek and Director Betty Ferraro objected to including $85,000 in the budget for a mitigation plan to deal with drinking water taste and odor issues. Director of Field Operations Paul Siebensohn said the $85,000 was a plug number for the “worst case” budget, and told the board he was developing a plan based on recommendations in a study done by a consultant.  The study was done in response to residents’ complaints about the water last summer. “That’s $85,000 in addition to what you spent last year screwing around with it?” Pasek asked Siebensohn. “Yes,” he replied. “The issue is should we spend $40 per resident to chase a problem that’s an irritant for a few,” Pasek said. “It was pretty bad last year. Yeah, I would,” Belton said. Pasek suggested looking at the impact of “doing with less, not necessarily without.”

“What we’re trying to do here is set the worst case,” said Gillum. “... It’s building into the budget what the board has expressed it wants done in the past, and now it’s up to the board to decide if they want to change that direction.”

The board proposed cutting taste and odor funding by 50 percent, but reconsidered and kept the full amount in the worst-case budget after Crouse described it as  “a hot-button item that’s right in somebody’s face,” and said it generated “a lot of comments from the public” last summer, but “every year, we have some level of taste and odor. And we heard loud and clear last year that the residents want us to address taste and odor. ... From a worst-case standpoint, until we really see Paul’s plan, it seems like it will be a little premature to whack his budget ... without seeing the bang for the buck.” 

The draft budget and water taste and odor study are in the board meeting packet.

Annual field operations report

Paul Siebensohn, director of field operations, presented an overview of water, sewer and drainage operation for 2011, as well as specifics about projects the 12-member work force completed during the year. Projects included replacing water meters and valves, making improvements to the Lost Lake drainage basin, rehabilitating the siphon pump station at Lake Calero, replacing failed drainage pipe, and networking security cameras at the water treatment plant for remote viewing.

Basic operations include operating and maintaining the infrastructure for the supply, storage and distribution of Rancho Murieta’s drinking water. Water is pumped from the Cosumnes River at Granlees Dam and stored in three reservoirs -- Calero, Chesbro and Clementia lakes -- and treated at the water treatment plant.  Last year, 1,574.63 acre-feet of potable water were produced at the water treatment plant for the community’s consumption.

The community’s sewage is collected at 11 pumping stations and delivered to the wastewater treatment plant, where a series of five ponds treated a daily average flow of 0.501 million gallons of raw wastewater last year. Stored wastewater was treated and disinfected to produce 470 acre-feet of tertiary treated water that was supplied to the golf courses for the club’s irrigation needs.

Siebensohn said testing results show the reclaimed wastewater the CSD produces is of “excellent disinfection and clarity.”

Security tax appeal

The Rancho Murieta Airport security tax appeal was removed from the agenda at the airport’s request, President Bobbi Belton announced when the item came up.

Board actions

  • The board adopted policies for communication outreach, response to public comment, and district insurance requirements.
  • Proposals for chemical purchase contracts were approved.
  • A proposal for the six-week rental of a sludge dredge to remove sludge from two treatment ponds at the wastewater treatment plant was approved at a cost of $30,100, of which $5,400 is a returnable deposit.