November 27, 2007

Water bills to triple in Lucerne Valley

County decides to end subsidy of water well

Daily Press

LUCERNE VALLEY — Lucerne Valley residents were slapped with an increased cost of water that will more than triple the average bill from $130 to $424 a month.

The increase was announced Tuesday night at the Lucerne Valley Community Center.

A sting operation in August by the California Highway Patrol and the state put water haulers, who were not properly licensed, out of business and shut down wells that didn’t pass health requirements.

Subsequently, residents were left without water, and the county Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency.

The county opened a temporary well and offered water haulers service at just $1 per load — about 2,000 gallons.

The county could have stopped the service once the emergency was over, but due to a lack of other available water sources, kept filling up local water haulers.

Most water haulers were shut down in the original sting and are still operating under temporary permits until they can get their paperwork together.

Since the original emergency in August, the county has lost nearly $67,000 selling water at such a discount.

Before the sting, well owners charged water haulers anywhere from $15 to $30 per 2,000-gallon load, said Rhonda Moore of 1 Moore Water Service.

As a water hauler, she then sold it to a customer at $65. An average family of four uses two loads, or $130, of water a month.

The price is set to go from $1 to $167 a load, said Manuel Benitez, chief of special districts in the county.

The $167, which still has to go before the Board of Supervisors, is to cover operational costs of the well, which the county was hoping to close because it doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate water hauling, Benitez said.

The average hike to the water hauler would be $147 and assuming that they pass through the increase, a family of four that was paying $130 a month will now pay roughly $424 a month.
“That is completely outrageous,” Moore said. “It would put me out of business.”

Michael Orme, a representative for 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, said that there are unlicensed water haulers who have again started services in Lucerne Valley. After Jan. 1, the state plans on going after those who have not met the necessary requirements.

“It’s really just a mess,” said Linda Gommel of Lucerne Valley. “Nothing has been solved.”