Friday, March 20, 2009

Visalia: Act quickly on water meters

Thursday, Mar. 19, 2009

The Visalia City Council this week demanded that California Water Service speed up the installation of water meters on homes as a way to conserve water.

And if the public utility drags its feet, one council member said, the city should consider using its power of eminent domain to take over the local water system. The threat was made by Council Member Don Landers, usually a conservative voice on eminent domain.

But Landers blasted Cal Water for what he said was poor communication with city officials about water conservation plans.

Cal Water's local manager, Phil Mirwald, told council members that the company will be installing the water meters over six years, which is much quicker than the original 16-year plan. But putting the meters in faster would mean a rate hike that the public isn't ready for, he said. Any lack of communication between the city and Cal Water has been unintentional, Mirwald said.

Since 1987, new homes in Visalia have been required to have meters, but most older homes still do not. Since August, 1,454 meters have been installed in Visalia, with 16,700 to go.

The city is concerned because a study of ground water under Visalia showed that water is being pumped out a lot faster than Mother Nature is replacing it. In 1989, the ground-water table was at a depth of 62 feet, but now it's down at 92 feet or more.

Meters should slow that depletion, the city said, because homeowners will pay for actual water use instead of a flat rate.

"You hit people in the pocketbook," said Council Member Greg Collins.

Not all the loss of ground water under Visalia is caused by urban use, but it's alarming enough that Visalia council members this week gave the go-ahead to exploring the sale of treated water from the sewer plant to an irrigation company, in exchange for water east of Visalia that could be put into the ground as replenishment.

Meanwhile, Cal Water is looking at ways to speed up water meter installations.

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