Folsom voters get a water warning - The Reclamation Bureau says the city's supply will be cut if Measure P is approved Tuesday

By Sekhar Padmanabhan -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

November 1, 2002

Folsom, CA - The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation intends to cut Folsom's water supply by more than a quarter if residents vote Tuesday to approve a measure affecting the future of water meters in the city.

Should Measure P -- an initiative that focuses on whose homes should have meters and who should pay for them -- win approval, the federal agency will take the following steps to prevent it from going into effect, according to Tom Aiken, manager of the bureau's Central California office:

* Send a letter to Folsom indicating that its federal water supply will be cut off.

* Send a letter to the San Juan Water District telling it to limit water to its Folsom customers.

* Send a letter to Sacramento County, saying it should withdraw its subcontract with Folsom to provide 7,000 acre-feet of future water supplies.

An acre-foot is enough to supply the average family of five for one year.

The reductions could temporarily keep residents from watering their lawns or washing their cars. Aiken said Folsom would be supplied with enough water for basic health and safety.

Proponents of Measure P maintain that the bureau is bluffing, saying there is no federal mandate for meters.

"This measure does not put in violation the bureau's agreement with the city, and it does not preclude the city from putting meters in," said John Guest, a member of the Water Meter Initiative Committee. "The city is not using the water the bureau is talking about and won't need to use it unless it continues to develop."

Guest said Measure P tells the city "that the residents will not pay" for installing meters in older homes.

"If they do put meters in the homes, they can't use the metered billing method as a ... whip to fund future development," he said.

But Rich Lorenz, Folsom public works director, said he hopes people are taking the bureau's warning on Thursday seriously. In June, the bureau issued a more general warning, one that did not spell out the steps to be taken.

"The bureau has been very straightforward and honest with us," Lorenz said. "I hope people understand that this is a water supply issue -- and that maintaining a safe and secure water supply is very important to us."

The bureau, which manages the Folsom Lake water supply, said that the temporary restrictions would remain in place until Folsom could shift its own supplies to compensate.

"Water is a utility, just like electricity or gas," said Aiken. "You should pay for what you take. ... If we didn't do this, we'd be breaking the law."

Aiken said the meters are a requirement of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which was adopted in 1992 and focused on conservation.

Measure P would ensure that the $5 million cost to retrofit 6,600 Folsom homes that were built before 1992 isn't passed on to residents. If the city dropped its metering plan, owners of those older homes could keep their flat rate under the measure. And if the city installed meters at its own cost, it could set up a tiered metered rate for owners of those older homes or residents receiving water under a pre-1914 water right.

Measure P proponents contend that meters are being installed to force conservation -- new water that could be used for development in the sphere of influence area south of U.S. Highway 50. City officials deny they have any plans to annex the area. And the City Council last year passed a resolution stating that no water from north of the highway would be used for development to the south.

To pay for retrofitting homes for meters, the city once planned to charge all customers $1.45 a month on their water bills over the nine-year life of the project. City officials have backed away from that plan, but Measure P supporters insist that at some point, residents will be asked to pay if the city charter isn't amended.

Were metering to go forward, Folsom likely would begin reading meters in the Ashland area north of the American River beginning in 2004. The readings would give customers a year of bills comparing metered and flat rates. Metered billing would begin the next year. Folsom residents south of the river would go through that process one year later.

City officials point out that one reason for requiring that all homes have meters is that the environmental impact report for expanding the Folsom water treatment plant required them as a mitigation measure.

And environmentalists have said Measure P also would violate a regional agreement by Water Forum members. The Water Forum is a Sacramento-based group that seeks to solve the region's long-term water problems. The agreement was negotiated among water districts and citizen, business and environmental groups.

The Building Industry Association of Superior California was among the agreement's signers. Bruce Houdesheldt, director of BIA's governmental affairs, said meter retrofitting is "fair and equitable" because the agreement requires new development to pay some of the same costs.


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