Bulk water station issues persist

Bulk  water  station  issues  persistBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

It’s been about four months since the Indian Wells Valley Water District put in its new bulk water station in Ridgecrest Heights, but water haulers are continuing to experience billing and accessibility hurdles when it comes to getting their water.

“One thing that can’t be justified is the complete and utter lack of accessibility,” said Ridgecrest resident Ryan Smith during this week’s IWVWD board meeting. Smith uses a wheelchair, but said that “even people that aren’t disabled have trouble using it.”

With the pump being inset two feet inside a curb and a payment system more than 6 feet from the ground, Smith said, it’s impossible for someone in a wheelchair to operate the system. Other shorter customers have shared similar issues in the past months.

“I can’t even get out of my vehicle at the facility let alone access my trailer or reach the pump or any of it,” he said. “A water district official said I shouldn’t have moved up to the area. But I must ask: if the gas station built a gas pump that was inaccessible, would that be OK because I have no business driving?”

As an owner of several commercial properties in Ridgecrest, Smith said that he is familiar with Americans With Disabilities Act compliance and with the fact that that the district neglected accessibility requirements when it had the new station put in.

Smith submitted a letter to the district requesting disability accommodations including a larger parking area to accommodate his vehicle and lowering of all operable parts. “Federal and state laws require that public entities provide reasonable modifications and services for people who have disabilities,” said the letter, which requested a response by Sept. 23.

At the district’s midyear workshop meeting, customers also complained about an erratic billing procedure and inconsistently receiving their receipts. They are also now the only customers who have to pay ahead of time for their water.

The district sent out a survey in August asking haulers to specify whether they preferred the prepayment system or standard billing. But Sam Merk, another local water hauler, said the poll was sent on too short notice and didn’t allow for enough time to make an educated decision.

Merk also criticized the bulk water rate, saying the Proposition 218 hearing to establish rates didn’t take into account a new billing system that required prepayment. Merk has also expressed difficulty in physically operating water station equipment.

“Thank you for finally wanting to know what the water haulers think,” said Merk in a letter to the district. “However it would have been useful to have asked the question whether the water haulers were able to use the machine.”

Other issues include receiving more or less water – sometimes as much as 100 gallons according to one customer – than requested.

“The users and the district have a mutual interest in making this right,” said IWVWD Board President Don Cortichiato.

The board could not take action as the discussion took place during public comment of items not on the agenda. The district board meets the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. at the IWVWD office. For future agendas and more information, see iwvwd.com.

Pictured: Ryan Smith raised the issue of accessibility at a recent water board meeting. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-09-13