By Deb Murphy

Rovana/Pine Creek Village Off the Sewer Hook

Pine Creek Village, familiarly known as Rovana, is officially off the hook with the State Water Resource Control Board and in compliance with staffing regulations at its waste water treatment operation.

More importantly, according to attorney Greg James, the addition of a Grade III plant operator won’t put an “extreme financial burden on the residents” living in one of the only bastions of affordable family housing in Owens Valley.

Last December, we reported on the dilemma faced by village owner John Hooper and the residents in the 86 houses. The village was found out of compliance with new State Water Resource Control Board regs for privately operated waste water treatment facilities. In a nutshell, the operation was classified with treatment plants designed to accommodate 25,000 homes generating five million gallons of waste water a day.

The new regs required a Grade III Chief Plant Operator and Class II Operator. According to Hooper, the operator, Ken Wilder, spent roughly an hour or two a day tending to the operation with no issues. The cost of required staffing would increase rents up to $200 a month.

Hooper and local attorney Greg James appealed to the good sense of the SWRCB and were turned down. Next step was a Petition for Review, a series of teleconferences and then a formal withdrawal of the petition when  Grade III operator Keith Hafner was hired.

The effort to help the SWRCB realize “small” treatment plants in rural areas are really tiny and shouldn’t be lumped in with suburban tracts may bring future changes in staffing regs. As James stated in his withdrawal letter, reclassification of such plants could “be analyzed when amendments to the SWRCB Regulations are considered in the future.”  

In the meantime, Pine Creek residents can breathe a little easier.

The Owens Valley Sustainable Groundwater Agency

Prior to the passage of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, this state was the only one of 50 with no regulation over groundwater. It was met with cheers from water watchers, but now agencies dipping into the Owens River Groundwater Basin are dealing with the devil in the Act’s details.

Inyo County’s Water Department has a tentative three-year budget for the newly-formed, 11-member Groundwater Sustainability Agency. According to Bob Harrington, department director, the number is in the $600,000 to $700,000 range, a number that includes the development of a management plan.

“We think this is a reasonable number,” Harrington said, “but this is all new territory.”

The Joint Powers Agreement that united the 11 eligible agencies was put together with a goal of inclusiveness, but realizing the agencies, including Inyo and Mono counties and the city of Bishop, plus nine small Community Service Districst, were not equal in financial resources.

Now the real work begins. Agencies will have to figure out how the cost will be divided. And, applications for grant funding to cover some of those costs have to be developed.

The department needed a target budget so the participating agencies could figure out their funding levels. The Joint Powers Agreement uniting the agencies spells out those levels. For example, using the high end of the tentative budget numbers, agencies can decide to pay their equal share, or a little more than $21,000 a year, and get four votes. Alternatives are to pay less with a proportional drop in voting power, pay nothing but still get two votes or pay more and pick up a proportional increase in voting power. The smaller CSDs can go for the four-vote option and bet on a successful grant application, or look at their budgets and plan on the worst case scenario—no grant monies.

As the 11 agencies begin to pick their GSA representation, Water Department staff is trying to find a date for the first official meeting.

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