BY MARIO CONDE
In 2011 the Heber Public Utilities District was producing water that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency and the state contamination levels for disinfection byproducts. It also had a demand that was over 85 percent of capacity and was unable to meet the fire flow demands of new commercial development.
The district submitted an application with the Department of Public Health and found HPUD was eligible for a $3 million grant, but the estimated project cost was $9 million. HPUD board member Dihana GarciaRuiz said that the district asked State Senator Ben Hueso to assist them.
Senator Hueso sponsored SB 1292, a bill that would have guaranteed access to safe drinking water for severely disadvantaged communities like Heber by increasing the construction grant cap under the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund from $3 million to $5 million.
The bill was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, but through other legislation, the grant cap was raised to $5 million. The HPUD was able to secure the full $5 million of grant funds and an additional $4.8 million in zero percent interest rate loans to make the necessary improvements to the water treatment plant.
“Senator Hueso recognized that there are water districts that have a great need for infrastructure improvements who serve a small population with little disposable income. Fortunately for us and communities like Heber the voters of California approved Proposition 1A which allowed us to fully fund our project with a $5 million grant and a $4.8 million loan with zero percent interest,” Garcia-Ruiz said.
Although the state water board did not require an increase in Heber water rates, HPUD increased the water rates by $1.2 per month. Garcia-Ruiz said that since the system has been put into use, Heber reached state compliance.
“Our plant is producing quality water, our capacity doubled and we are meeting the fire flow requirements for our new commercial customers,” Garcia-Ruiz stated and added that Heber is ready to welcome new residents and businesses.
Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia said that Sacramento legislators have great interest when it relates to oversight and accountability of state water boards.
“It comes to the recognition of these challenges that any and every time that there is a compliance issue, California sets the bar high in regards water quality standards and safe drinking water for our communities. That’s why projects like this one help develop disadvantaged communities meet those standards,” Assemblyman Garcia said. After the ribbon cutting was made, there was a tour of the upgraded facilities.