County to Secure Emergency Water Source for Customers of Broke Utility

RIVERSIDE – Riverside County supervisors are expected tomorrow to sign off on an emergency water service agreement to ensure drinking water supplies are available to residents previously served by a utility going out of business.

Supervisor Kevin Jeffries has made securing safe water for 140 households in the Bundy Canyon area, between Menifee and Wildomar, a priority since the start of the year.

The privately-held County Water Co. had been the local supplier, but the utility’s chief administrator recently notified county officials that it was folding its operation and would no longer be able to maintain its wells, according to Jeffries.

The CWC — which is not a Riverside County agency — has been the target of multiple citations for alleged environmental violations stemming from polluted tanks, the supervisor said.

The Perris-based Eastern Municipal Water District and the Lake Elsinore- based Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District have both offered to step in and fill the void left by the CWC’s dissolution. The suppliers have already established an emergency well and have received $6.25 million in state funding to build the infrastructure necessary to distribute water to the affected area on a permanent basis, according to Jeffries.

However, neither agency will assume responsibility for the new customers until the state Legislature approves a bill that shields each from liability for prior actions by the CWC. According to Jeffries, the legislation — Senate Bill 1130 — is expected to be approved this summer.

In the meantime, there’s the possibility of a ”complete failure” of the CWC’s existing water system, the supervisor said, potentially leaving its 140 dependent households without immediate access to potable water.

The Wildomar-based Farm Mutual Water Co. has offered to take over emergency water distribution in the event of a failure.

According to the proposed emergency water service agreement, the FMWC would coordinate with the Riverside County Economic Development Agency to make supplies available.

The EDA is awaiting court approval to become receiver of the CWC’s assets, according to Jeffries.

Under the water service agreement, EDA would be authorized to spend up to $50,000 on ”maintenance, installation and repair costs” associated with existing infrastructure.

The county anticipates $4,500-a-month in water delivery costs, which will be recouped directly from customers, according to Jeffries.

Southern California Edison has been providing electricity to power the lone active pump serving the area for several months without reimbursement, incurring a debt of roughly $3,000, EDA officials said.

According to Jeffries, the county will be seeking funding under the Proposition 84 Safe Drinking Water bond measure, approved by voters in 2006, and other sources to offset whatever costs are absorbed in securing water for the affected community.

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