By Deb Murphy

Beginning next month, Inyo County will take over operation of the water systems in Independence, Laws and Lone Pine with a goal of upgrading the 100-year old infrastructure and, hopefully, breaking even financially.

Public Works’ Chris Cash made the case for the move from an outside contractor, Wilder-Barton to an in-house operation at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting. The timing matches the end of Wilder-Barton’s contract.

System meters were installed at least 38 years ago. The Independence system suffered a break in its main line last year. The three systems are operating on borrowed time.

While the contractor is tasked with major repairs, emergencies and small repairs have traditionally been done by Inyo’s Public Works Department. Going forward, Cash said, “we need to capture as much revenue as possible to maintain the systems.”

According to Cash, Public Works’ internal costs for the systems are $127,000 on top of a $218,000 contract cost. Revenue from the systems comes to $375,000. “We can do the contractor’s work for $200,000,” Cash said.

A Public Works’ employee is in the process of getting the required certification for water system operators. There may also be additional new hires to work part-time on the systems and part-time on other projects.

The Supervisors balked at what looked like a small monetary gain, $18,000, by going in-house, but former department head and current CAO Clint Quilter explained the big cost savings will be on repairs. The savings will go into maintenance issues.

The County hired a consultant last year to conduct a rate study on the three water systems. The results should come before the Board within the next two months.

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