July 04, 2014

Assembly passes bill to supply clean water

BY MICHAEL J. WILLIAMS | The Press-Enterprise

A state bill needed in the quest to supply reliable drinking water to a neighborhood straddling the border of Wildomar and Menifee received unanimous support from the state Assembly on Thursday.

Senate Bill 1130 authored by Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, and passed by a 72-0 Assembly vote needs only Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature for it to become law. It would clear the way for the Elsinore Valley and Eastern Municipal Water Districts to extend their systems to the neighborhood of about 140 households that are mostly in Wildomar, north of Bundy Canyon Road.

For years, the rural enclave has been stuck with undrinkable nitrate-laden well water and unreliable service from a private firm, the County Water Company of Riverside, which recently declared it was going out of business. Company representatives agreed to relinquish control to Riverside County, which will coordinate the water districts’ involvement.

“We’ve gotten bipartisan support because (legislators) see this as an urgent issue that’s impacting families,” said Roth’s communications director, Chuck Dalldorf. “It’s appalling that people can’t bathe, there’s no water pressure. ... They can’t cook, they can’t wash dishes, let alone not having drinking water.”

Both public water districts, which border the beleaguered neighborhood, agreed a couple of years ago to intervene, but would not commit themselves until they had a legislative guarantee that they could not be sued over issues related to the current system’s failure.

Roth’s bill provides that guarantee. The governor has 12 days to sign it and since it passed as an urgency bill, it would go into effect immediately.

“When you have unanimous support from the two legislative bodies, you have a strong indication this bill is doing the right thing,” Eastern spokesman Kevin Pearson said. “Once it is on the governor’s desk, we’re sure the governor will see the need for this.”

The bill opens the door for the first step in the process – the extension of a temporary line to the neighborhood by Elsinore Valley from its Bundy Canyon reservoir. Meanwhile, the districts will begin the process of developing permanent infrastructure to serve the neighborhood.

Elsinore Valley representative Greg Morrison said it will take about 45 days to award a contract for construction of the temporary line, work that should commence in about two months.

“This has been a big milestone for both agencies and both boards,” Morrison said of bill’s passage. ”This was an important step to protect our existing customers so we’ll be moving full steam ahead to get the temporary emergency line in by the beginning of September.”

Meeting that schedule required the Assembly’s approval by Thursday, the last day of the session before it went on recess until August.

Officials with both districts lauded state Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, for obtaining a rule waiver allowing the bill to be voted on Thursday, a day after the Assembly’s appropriations committee voted 17-0 to approve it.

“It is hard to imagine that here in America some people do not have access to clean and reliable water,” Melendez said in a news release. “My heart goes out to those families who have been affected by this horrible situation.”


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