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Tuesday, Feb 26 2013 12:00 AM

Water board to consider rate relief for some customers

The Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District Board of Directors asked for a resolution to move forward in approving changes to water rates for some customers that would stabilize their current costs, and for others, lower their bills up to seven percent.

The new rates, if approved by the board at its March 20 meeting, would go into effect before the 2013-pumping season, which this year begins seven days earlier on March 25, and would remain in play over the next three years.

The request came at Wednesday's monthly board meeting.

Receiving the most reduction will be regular municipal and industrial water users, whose price will decrease from $1,600 per acre-foot to $1,486 per acre under the newly proposed rates.

Meanwhile, long-term contractual M&I accounts within the boundaries of Brite and Tehachapi Valleys will also benefit with a reduction of $29 per acre-foot, while local farmers in the regions would receive a 6-percent reduction.

Significant changes to variables between the 2010 and 2013 water rate calculations are the reason for the decrease.

The biggest reason is the reduction in the district's natural gas costs, which after entering into a new contract with Shell Energy to purchase natural gas up to three years in advance, fell from an average $5 per MMBTU to $4.25.

Currently, the district has contracted 85 percent of this year's natural gas supply at $4.10, and 65 percent of its 2014 supply at $4.23 per MMBTU.

"Proposition 218 has made increasing water rates difficult and costly, so we want to avoid the water rate yo-yo effect if possible," said district General Manager John Martin in a written statement to the board. "A better approach is to stabilize rates and then reduce them if it appears that they won't need to be increased soon thereafter."

In addition to the lower natural gas cost, other variables effecting current rates were reductions in the amount of state water project water the district must pump, reduced system water losses, lower pumping costs at the plant located on Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road and the over all amount of water delivered in the areas of the Brite and Tehachapi Valleys, as well as the Oak Creek region, which serves Cal Portland -- the district's only large customer in that area.

The plant on Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road is the only pump powered by electricity as all the other district pumps are powered by natural gas.

Snyder well project

Also at its meeting, the board approved a cost-sharing agreement with the City of Tehachapi for its Snyder well intertie project, which would connect the city's aging well to the district's raw water system.

The district agreed to equally share the costs and pay up to $10,000 towards preliminary engineering and grant application work for reimbursement through the California Department of Water Resources.

The well, located at the corner of Snyder and "D" Streets, has extreme nitrate concentrations exceeding the maximum contaminant level.

The city wants to build a pipeline under Jacobsen Middle School that would provide irrigation of the three athletic fields, before heading south on Dennison Rd. to connect to the district's existing pipeline at the corner of Dennison and Valley Blvd.

The district would pump the well heavily for several years with the intent of reducing the nitrate levels, and at the end of the period the well would be returned to service directly into the city's water distribution system.

A second part of the project would be to connect the district's Dennison well, located just east of the intersection of Dennison and Valley, to the city's water system for emergency use.

If the project is funded, the district and the city will need to execute additional agreements as to how each well can be used and how operation and maintenance costs will be allocated.

"The water district has a long history of cooperation with other public agencies in the Greater Tehachapi Area," said Martin. "Joining the city on their Snyder well project will provide benefits to both agencies as well as the school district. Cooperating with each other helps to keep costs down."

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