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The Boonville Water-Sewer Project: An Exchange

Joan Burroughs writes:

Dear Members of the AVCSD Board and Members of the Citizen Committee:

Thank you for sending notice regarding the preparation of a draft impact report for the drinking water system/wastewater collection and treatment disposal project for Boonville. I wish to respond as a property owner in Boonville who will be greatly affected under this plan. I am writing to inform board members, citizen committee members, and Boonville neighbors, regarding my concerns for the proposed water and wastewater project. Please distribute copies of this letter to members of the board and members of the citizen committee; regrettably, I am unable to attend your meeting on November 1st.

I am expressing my concerns predominantly based on actual costs and experiences in Lake County regarding the water plant serving the area where I reside. Our multi-million dollar ($3 million plus) water plant was put into operation about three years ago; it replaced an old plant that no longer met state requirements. The water plant provides water to approximately 250 homes plus a number of additional unimproved parcels. Our plant design and function is very similar in size to your proposed project in Boonville. Each parcel where I live is about a quarter-acre in size; water and sewer were not allowed together on each lot by the county in the early 1970s when the subdivision was first approved; therefore, each owner maintains an individual wastewater setup. Costs related to maintain the wastewater system are normally limited to cleanout services every five to ten years. 

Boonville residents should be made aware of an unavoidable investment of $10,000 for each cement aboveground water distribution box; this is a mandated expense paid by each property owner in our Lake County community, as it will be in Boonville if your project is approved. This prodigious amount does not include connecting lines to the property or fire hydrants. The boxes are placed at each home or business site; they are accessible and visible from the ground. On average they protrude about twelve inches above ground. They measure approximately twenty by fourteen inches. There is no funding source available for reimbursement for these cement boxes - this will be a $10,000 out-of-pocket expense for each property owner in Boonville who agrees to use the water. 

The $10,000 commitment is for water service only, if wastewater is also approved that will be an additional cost for each user to deal with. The board is obligated to explain these known fixed costs and be forthright with property owners before any vote is undertaken. This initial investment charge is not included in grants or loans; water users reimburse the state and others through their monthly payments; however, the initial cement disbursement and metering box is one of many out-of-pocket expenses for each user in addition to the monthly charges. The massive pay-back thirty-one million dollar loan, currently being considered by CSD will be collected in addition to amortized interest directly through users’ billing; the $10,000 cost is above and beyond monthly billing – this is a cost each property owner must pay individually.

I am led to believe the sewer plan if adopted will require all property owners to participate. If true, no one can escape paying for this service. If mandatory, every property owner in the service area will be forced to take part whether they choose to tie in or not. I am hopeful the board is not seriously considering this restriction; it is grossly unfair and borderline autocratic.

An independent governing water board is required to establish and oversee the state- sponsored operation. The initial setup requires the services of an attorney who is familiar with water plant issues and will assist the board during the grant process. The water plant in my area employs two operators, both of whom are certified by the state to oversee daily operation of the plant. They are full-time plant employees entitled to full employee benefit coverage. The operators are licensed by the state and must pass certification requirements. The operators prepare testing compliance reports that are sent to the state. At our plant the operators also monitor meters at each home site, they forward the usage numbers to a bookkeeper. 

The bookkeeper is also an employee of the water board. The bookkeeper sends out billing, performs all accounting duties, payment collection, payroll, and other daily record keeping. The bookkeeper provides statements for the board and works with a Certified Public Accountant who files tax returns and performs audits on behalf of the water board. 

In Lake County, my water bill/maintenance costs vary each month; however, the yearly cost is close to $1,500.00. This amount does not include optional delivered drinking/cooking water charges or any filtering equipment that is universally used by residents. Vacant homes must pay the full monthly maintenance bill despite not using any water. The maintenance billing covers plant operational costs, employees, upgrading of the plant, electricity, plant building loan, and amortized interest payback to the state. The final cost of water is based on usage; it is a very minimal part of the billing, usually less than $15.00. 

Each water/wastewater consumer needs to be prepared for the monumental expense and damage done to properties when lines are initially installed and connected to their homes or businesses. Businesses will be impacted during installation; they will lose income from tourists and locals during the massive street work. When similar work to a small section of downtown Lakeport was contracted out a few years ago one area of a sidewalk was blocked off with the exception of a tiny path to restaurants and shops; traffic was diverted around the area, disruption continued for an entire summer. There was no way to access businesses from the street, the noise was jarring, parking was non-existent, and businesses suffered severe monetary losses. This is a small example of what we will be dealing with considering the impact of a layout as massive as the one proposed for Boonville. The construction part of the project will take years to complete, mainly because of its extensive size and scope. 

Under this plan it is inevitable some in-place landscaping, including trees, will be impacted or die if their roots are near the excavation areas; some trees on parcels near the street will be removed for the installation of the water/sewer lines. The costly removal of the impacted trees, and loss of their property attributes will more than likely impact property values and substantially decrease real estate salability. 

Additionally, if an individual or business in Boonville rents their property from a landlord they need to be prepared for a substantial increase in rents to cover the landlord’s costs for providing this expensive water and sewer service.

The major problem, and primary complaint, regarding water from a plant is the use of treatment chemicals. There is no way to avoid the chemical taste; residue found in plumbing, water heaters, dishwashers, etc has to be dealt with quite often. Water heaters need to be replaced every few years due to chemical buildup. In our area a large percentage of homeowners installed expensive whole-house water filters and softeners to mitigate the problem. Consumers with health issues must install special treatment equipment if they use chemically treated plant water. Some residents unable to afford the expensive filtering systems have bottled drinking water delivered, others have faucet and shower filters to cut back on the bad taste and residue. Because some chemicals are added to or taken away from the water, indoor and outdoor plants require more than usual amounts of fertilizers added back into their water. 

In Lake County, as well as Mendocino County, we are experiencing the threat of fires – our water plant currently has storage tanks for everyday use. Should there be a fire in our area, the plant, which is operationally dependent on power and personnel, will be shut down during evacuations. If tanks go dry, there will be no water personnel available to keep them full for firefighting purposes. This will be a concern for Boonville also; this is an issue that should be addressed by the Community Service District Board in conjunction with the Firefighter’s Association should this immense project be seriously considered.

An ongoing concern regarding placement of sewer lines: Robinson Creek and Anderson Creek are well known by long-time residents to flood during winter storms; Lambert Lane bridge, and the Anderson Creek bypass are vulnerable during major water flooding. Trees have collapsed and sloping banks have eroded on these seemingly mild-mannered little creeks in the past. During winter storms the creek beds can literally reroute causing damage to property, and bridges. If a sewer line is attached to a bridge it is also vulnerable to undetected leaking or outright collapse from earthquakes; even tiny wastewater leaks can cause contamination for miles downstream.

Fortunately, my one hundred, thirty-year old family property in mid-Boonville continues to produce ample water; the water is periodically tested by a laboratory and always shows consistent results. The last test was performed in September 2018: the water has no issues or contaminates. The main sewer tank was upgraded about fifteen years ago and continues to work very well. None of my immediate neighbors are experiencing any problems so it is assumed the sewer/water samplings (as outlined in the project report) were obtained from a small area located in a clustered area of Boonville; obviously, this should be resolved with the property owners and the Mendocino County Health Department for upgrading. This is not an issue for the entire community to alleviate for these unfortunate property owners, they need to address their water and waste problems by upgrading their own property.

If Boonville truly has an urgent water/sewer problem I am sure most of us would be inclined to agree something should be done to avoid health issues for all of us. However, that urgency does not appear to be the area of concern as outlined in the project report; it addresses only a few samples (twenty-three); twenty of those properties were identified as contaminated during the winter months; they appear to be clustered together; ironically, the tested locations are very near the CSD office.

The excessive $10,000.00 cost to each individual user to connect to the water system is shockingly exorbitant; the quality of the water delivered from treatment plants is very undesirable due to chemical treatments; the monthly cost to receive water will definitely increase rent payments and greatly impact household budgets. Businesses will need to deal with changing margins due to the excessive cost of water, sewer, and the disruption of business sites. The costs will eventually “trickle down” to the local consumers who will already be paying large amounts for the same service. Real estate values will decline; homes and businesses will no longer be desirable to prospective buyers as a result of the initial $10,000.00 investment, expensive monthly payments, poor quality water, and an obtrusive and undesirable infrastructure project. The economic cost is excessive compared to any possible benefits, should there be any.

It is certainly possible the water table in Boonville will drop due to the large amount of proposed new deepwater wells (fifteen sites shown on map). The established well sites are near creeks that now meet Boonville’s current water needs; they are primarily located near an established water table that has consistently provided water for personal and business use in Boonville for over a hundred years. Deep well drilling will present an immense problem for these wells. If the deepwater wells are a cause of private wells running dry, the CSD board and a water board could end up facing litigation.

I trust the board will fully review all opinions, and concerns before adopting this plan. I have confidence in the board’s ability to make the right decision for Boonville residents, not just a few property owners who are obviously out of compliance. The last sanitary survey of central Boonville was undertaken in 1974: forty-four years ago! Huge improvements to above or below ground sewer systems have taken place since that time. 

The property owners who are having problems with their non-compliant sites need to bring their properties up to safety and health standards. This is their problem to resolve; it is not a problem for a majority of property owners in Boonville who are in compliance to solve for the few; the out-of-compliance property owners should upgrade their sewer systems with modern equipment, and look into addressing their own water concerns. I am sorry for their plight; I know it is not easy for them to deal with, but they must. It is unfair to assume the rest of us will pay thousands of dollars to carry the burden for a few due to their continual inattention to their past and present problems. However, that will be the result if the board agrees to this massively expensive loan obligation. Boonville residents will be forced to deal with an unaffordable, undesirable, and unnecessary project if this plan is implemented.

Thank you for taking my concerns into consideration; I know you will ultimately make a fair and honorable decision for all residents affected by this colossal project. Having lived with both private water/sewer and plant-provided water, I adamantly assure you having the private water/sewer is far superior and considerably less costly compared to plant treated water and sewer services for all the reasons I have outlined in this letter.


Joan Burroughs, Kelseyville

Valerie Hanelt Replies:

Hi Joan, 

First of all, thank you for your letter and the effort you put into thinking through all your concerns. I wish I had had this information earlier. It is very shocking what the Lake County system is like at your Kelseyville property. Under no circumstances would we have tried to implement a system as expensive to the individual parcel owner! We would not have gotten this far if our system resembled the one you are dealing with. First of all, the expense! Who could possibly come up with $10,000 per parcel in the first place? I assure you, if we had been talking about that kind of money we would have had to back off a municipal system. This is in our notes from a telephone conference with our project managers at the State Water Board: 

“Jennifer recommends using the grant funding as an incentive to property owners to hook-up even if they are not going to use the service.” For example, “the grant funding will expire in three years and after that time you would pay up to $10,000 to hook-up yourself.”

So there is a definite incentive to hook up to drinking water while the State is paying for it, rather than down the road on your own. I don’t believe this $10K has anything to do with the property owner’s responsibility to pay for the lines on their side of the property line, however. 

We can't expect our parcel owners to undertake ANY loan repayment. That is why we are going for 100% state/federal grant monies. 

Our monthly parcel rate will only reflect what we need for “Operation and Maintenance.” To set up monthly rates we have to use a formula: 2% of the median community monthly income. The State is using approximately $38,800 as our median yearly income (everyone is treated the same). So $38,800 divided by 12 to get the monthly income is $3,233. 2% of that is $65. That is the State formula for the rate required by the Proposition One funds we are applying for. Each system would cost the parcel owner hopefully around $65 for the basic rate. (So if your parcel gets Water AND sewer it would be $65 per system). The 2% would be the base amount. Everyone on the Drinking Water system (residences, Businesses, Fairgrounds, schools, clinic, etc.) would be metered to arrive at the monthly bill. Our understanding is that the bill would be the base rate for a standard amount plus the extra amount of water used beyond that. Your $1500/year doesn’t seem that bad – except that you aren’t getting drinkable water out of it!

The State audits the amount we charge so that we only charge O&E (operating and maintenance) expenses. That has to cover the water system employees, billing, etc. Money collected beyond O&E would be considered a "tax" on parcel owners and would have to be returned. Our future Water Board (under the CSD) is legislated under LAFCO and the State Proposition 18 funding rules. No profit there for CSD. 

Another note on the rate being 2% of monthly income formula is that it is predicated on our being in the lowest band of socio-economic status based on median income for our zipcode. On Dec 1st the new American Communities income data comes out and those numbers could change. However, it is critical that we stay a “severely disadvantaged” community based on the upcoming December data as that triggers 100% funding. We will be watching the new data with trepidation.

How could we service loans and still keep our monthly rates low enough for people to afford them in a severely disadvantaged community (which by the State’s definition, we are)? The State’s answer to that is that we can’t – thus the 100% funding. Thus the importance of staying in the “severely disadvantaged” category. Let me go over some points in your letter: Water boxes? Are these water meters? The Drinking water system we are installing includes fire hydrants (State won't approve the system without them) and every parcel has a water meter. The parcel owner is responsible for connecting to the water meter. I am pretty sure these are flush with the ground and are close to the road. But that is a good question for the engineers because no one has thought about their appearance yet. We are trying to find grants for parcel owners to cover the connections costs to hook up to the provided meter at their property line. There is a senior and low income program that we are looking into. We would encourage every parcel owner to sign up for these small grants.

The sewer lines/laterals are paid for right up to the house as the State won't fund unless all sewage is collected. So no expenses to parcel owner for hook up for sewer. Mandatory sewer hook up: Yes, the state will not fund unless all the contaminants are removed in the sewer zone. This is true. We are hoping parcel owners will feel that the monthly rate is not too onerous considering there is no more concern with septic maintenance and their current leach field will now be available for development. 

Drinking water hook up: This is optional. Even if you do hook up, you still can keep your own well for use inside the house (with a backflow preventer) and outside for any purpose. Your parcel will have a meter anyway as part of the new system, so you could hook up later. The advantage of using municipal water is that it is safe and will be available even with a power outage. Also it provides enough pressure for sprinkler systems if you build/remodel and have to have a sprinkler because of permits. 

Water Board/Attorney. Yes, required. We already have an attorney. His fees are covered by the planning grant and the design grant, which is pre-O&M. Once we are operational and he has guided us through this process and we are signed off by LAFCO and the State, we are hoping there won't be an ongoing need for an attorney. There might be a reason down the road, but hopefully we will get off on the right foot and be doing everything correctly. Bookkeeper: Yes, the part time job of our CSD manager will grow to include the necessary hours to administer the billing. 

Also, we hope we have a local water operator rather than a contract with an outside company. Delivered water! Filtering equipment! Treatment chemicals! Dry tanks! I really don't like your Kelseyville system! We will have two huge tanks on Pete Bradford's property for fire suppression. Our system of hydrants every 500 feet is felt to be advantageous to our Fire Department. As to chemicals and taste, the North Coast Water Board (our permitting agency) feels our system (underground aquifer) needs less treatment than reservoirs and after a period of adjustment the taste should be OK. There is a process for people to report tastes, etc. But this is a shared concern of many, and will be discussed Nov 1. 

Disruption during installation: Yes, unavoidable. Not sure how bad for how long. Yes, the sewer line will connect under the new Lambert bridge. The Lambert bridge is scheduled to be done - it will certainly have to be done before we hang sewer lines under it. The sewer doesn't go under the Anderson Creek bypass. The Sewer system is smaller than the Drinking water system (which goes to Meadow Estates by the airport and also down to the Elem. School on AV Way). Sewer hook ups stop before AV creek overcrossing, then turns left up Mt View to include the High School and Clinic. Effect on other wells: I don't have the expertise to answer this question - how I wish you could come on Nov. 1st! It will be addressed then. It is one of the most important concerns of parcel owners in the vicinity of municipal wells and the engineers are better able to answer than I. 

Joan, I think the bottom line is that we will have a much better system than the one in Kelseyville. The $3-4 million spent in Kelseyville seems to demand that parcel owners bear much of the brunt for an inadequate system. We are hoping to do much better - we are looking at a huge amount of money for our infrastructure. If we had to have the parcel owners pay for it (or even a small part of it) we wouldn't be at this point in the process. CSD has spent zero dollars to this point and is not obligated to continue to construction. Although the State Prop One money will probably never be available again if we turn our backs on it now. Every parcel owner will get a "rate letter" saying exactly what the monthly rates will be. The rate has to be spelled out for a period of years. We won't know what the “O&M” rates will be until the projects are fully designed to the 'nuts and bolts' stage, hopefully by next summer. At that time a parcel owner can "vote." I put that in quotes because the vote is actually returning the letter saying you “protest” it. So about 300 parcel owners (not renters) will get these letters and if 50% plus 1 return a protest, then the project dies. Actually it is over 300 parcels for Drinking water, and under 300 for Sewer, but you get the idea. You will be able to "vote" for each parcel you own. You probably have more than two. Joan, I hope this gives you more information about what we are doing and what we are hearing from the engineers and the State Funding for our project. We have asked our State project manager over and over (and over) if 100% funding is really possible and after three years we have become convinced and have continued planning. 

I also want to assure you that the Missouri House is of important historical value. The 100 year old oak trees planted by your grandfather are a community treasure. While installation might disrupt yards and landscaping, I think your trees should be listed in a historical/cultural category in the Environmental Impact Report and everything possible done to protect them.

We are collecting questions (you have contributed a lot in this letter) and we hope everyone leaves the meeting with a better understanding of this undertaking. 

Best wishes, Joan, 


Glen & Mary Ricard add:

Dear Valerie, 

I apologize for my tardiness in responding to your very impressive presentation of your Boonville projects. Mary and I were amazed at the amount work and progress that has been accomplished. 

We are completely supportive of your plans and efforts. Also, thanks for the water test results. 

As we explained, our plans (prepared by Architect, Debra Lennox), for rehabilitating the building were rejected by the building department years ago. We proposed retail/office spaces, plus 4 to 6 living
spaces above. There were several pages of nit-picky items, however, the killer was the imposed requirement of an Elevator. (I bet you can count the number of elevators in Mendocino County on one hand.) I took this as a sign that the County was not interested in having
this property improved. "You can't fight City Hall". 

A few interested parties also reported resistance from the County, concerning the septic system. I believe that this septic system was the latest (new) one in this section. It was the location of the
Village Laundromat. A Community Sewer System will eliminate these concerns. 

The advantage of Zero set-back is a major feature for this property to be remodeled. If razed, the 20ft setback would be imposed, which would restrict the possibility of off-street parking and frontage exposure. 

You mentioned that the Building & Planning has new leadership, which is fine, but the buyers have moved on. 

Thanks again for your efforts and information. 


Glen and Mary Ricard 


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