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Community struggles to find economically viable solution
Arsenic has been declared a hazard to human health, even at extremely low levels, and discovering arsenic in drinking water is a problem no water district wants to have.
According to the state of California, Bridgeport residents are drinking water from a municipal water system that is deemed to have arsenic at higher levels than the state allows.
In Bridgeport’s case, the arsenic comes from natural sources, not industrial ones, and the problem lies in eradicating the arsenic.
The solution won’t be easy, and it will be expensive—possibly expensive enough to cause harm to a community that is already economically struggling.
The only solution acceptable to the state is a new arsenic treatment facility, and even with a grant for the facility—which the local water/utility district has—the cost of coming into compliance with state standards will be very difficult for Bridgeport customers to bear, according to Ken Reynolds, the president of the district.
“For residential customers, the current rate is $64.26 a month. [Implementation of the treatment facility] would increase it to $101.52,” said Reynolds. “This would make the overall water/sewer rate $180 a month for residences.”
He added even that rate was dependent on getting rid of a special wintertime rate that allows businesses and residents a break during the winter.
“This is contingent on eliminating the Winter Standby Rate,” he said. “This would go away. If not, then the residential customer’s rate would increase to $112, or $191 for both water and sewer.”
That’s a stiff price to pay, he told the Mono County Board of Supervisors, and it would be a real hardship for the many residents who struggle in the small, tourism-dependent town.
Reynolds noted the little utility district had not raised rates since 2006, and perhaps, it should have. The bottom line is that the abrupt increase will make the “sticker shock” hit of a new rate even harder for customers to deal with now.
Commercial customers would get hit even harder, according to the area’s supervisor, Tim Fesko.
“I know some of them are worried they will be forced to shut down,” he said. “They are already hurting.”
Fesko said he was frustrated with what he believes is the state mandating a standard that is unreasonable, and presents a moving target that could get lowered even farther in the future.
Reynolds said he would keep the board in the loop regarding the utility district’s decisions.
“We aren’t asking for anything, just letting you know we are working on this. We have a new board that does not have consensus on what we are going to do, and this is going to be difficult,” he said.