As I write this column, the El Dorado Irrigation District has teams deployed addressing multiple emergency projects.
Some are engaged in an emergency sewer line fix; others are cutting roads into remote hilltops to enable access to damaged flume and canal sections. Some of those flume and canal sections will only be accessible by helicopter because of their remote locations, perched on the side of high country slopes.
Women and men in our headquarters and outlying facilities are working diligently to ensure materials are ordered, treatment plants are working optimally in these extreme weather conditions and customer issues are addressed in as timely a manner as possible.
The recent raging storms have tested EID infrastructure. The collapse of flumes and canals due to earth movement is difficult to guard against. Through our capital improvement plan, we allocate funds to rehabilitate or replace sections of our aging infrastructure before emergencies happen.
We know that emergency work is often double the cost of planned construction and repairs. That’s why a robust infrastructure repair and replacement program is necessary. And we aim for that with our capital improvement program. But sometimes Mother Nature takes over, as has been the case in these opening months of 2017.
EID’s staff won’t stop until the work gets done. Like the many public safety and public service workers who have addressed landslides, road damages and the results of damaging flood waters, EID workers strive to work safely and urgently to address our community’s needs.
EID has received a number of inquiries from our customers concerned about how we will pay for the emergency repairs resulting from the recent extreme weather and if the emergency would trigger additional rate increases.
Although we are continuing to assess the total damages to EID’s facilities, currently there are no plans to increase rates beyond the already approved 3 percent per year adjustments through 2020, which represents a reduction from the previously approved 2016-20 rate increases outlined in the Proposition 218 notice sent to our customers in late 2015.
EID will utilize insurance to pay for much of the damage that falls within our coverage limits. This will help to defray a significant amount of the emergency costs. The remainder will be paid either from Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements or out of reserve funds.
Each year EID staff refines our capital improvement plan to allow us to rehabilitate or replace aging infrastructure. These projects are costly and we often use low-interest bonds to finance them and spread the cost equitably across the generations of customers who will benefit from the facilities. But they are even more costly when done under emergency conditions. This is why the modest increases we have planned — which amount to an average increase of about $1.65 per month for medium water users — are so vital for the resilience of our long-term capital improvement plan.
Emergencies happen. But with diligent and conservative planning and investment, EID will continue to deliver the safe and reliable services our customers rely on every day.
Jim Abercrombie is EID’s general manager.