The Grizzly Flat Community Services District (GFCSD) may be small, but it seems to get everything right from its choice of general manager, to its board, to the way it does business.
Previously a private water company owned by the developer of Grizzly Flat, in 1987 it was formed as a public utility by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.
With approximately 600 meter connections, GFCSD provides treated water for domestic use in addition to fire protection to residents. Its facilities include a 31 acre-foot reservoir, two treatment plants, two diversion points, a pipeline carrying water from the diversions to the reservoir, four treated water storage tanks, plus a distribution network of pipes and hydrants.
Maintaining all this are five employees led by the district’s bubbly General Manager Jodi Lauther, 36, along with a group of community volunteers including its board of directors.
Married with three children, Lauther said she was initially hired in 2007 on a part-time basis to do customer service and office work. But it has since “turned into a wonderful opportunity for me.” General manager since July of last year, Lauther said her background is in accounting, but she later took classes and got her treatment license.
“We’re kept very busy,” said Lauther. “We all wear many hats. We may be a small district but have to meet all the same requirements as a big district.”
Rich Englefield, who is a member of the board, said, “We have an excellent team. We’re certainly pleased to have Jodi. She earned it.”
“We also rely on the community and volunteers to tell us if there’s a leak or a problem,” said Lauther. “When we had a big freeze, we had 30 volunteers going house to house digging up meter boxes covered with snow. That was in 2010. We were looking for leaks and found 22 of them. Those were all found by volunteers.
“We use volunteers to help with flagging when fixing a leak,” said Lauther. “We had volunteers help stake pipes so we could GPS them. Volunteers sit at the front desk and answer the phone when we have a board meeting. Our board of directors is uncompensated and are known to throw on their boots to help us out in the field. The pipe for the Eagle Ditch project was done by our volunteers and the treatment plant building was built by them. It’s a great community and we have a great board of directors.”
As with other districts, the main challenge is financial.
“Our focus is on keeping our financials in a good place,” she said. “It’s hard to raise more money. We’re also very isolated, so it’s a challenge to keep things running, keep the power on when there is ice and snow and getting vendors to deliver things. It can also be a challenge living in a small town where everyone knows each other.”
Residents of the district pay $60.37 a month for water. In return they receive 300 gallons of water a day. Anything over that amount goes into a tiered rate.
Englefield said the limited number of ratepayers in the district is the biggest reason they had to increase the water rates recently.
“But before we did so, we promoted to the community what needed to be fixed and then talked about the need for a rate increase,” he said. “The previous board didn’t raise rates for five to six years. We doubled the rates but had very few complaints because of the way we did it.”
Lauther noted that the board is very proactive. ”We just finished a $1.6 million upgrade which included new pipeline, new fire hydrants, a backwash flow meter, and a new liner in the raw water reservoir,” she said. The upgrade was done using the $48 Standby Charge on everyone’s property tax bill plus loans and grants rather than a rate increase on people’s water bills.
“We’re so fortunate to have this board,” said Englefield. ”They nailed it on the infrastructure project.”
However, the upgrade was not without its challenges. They have a photograph of a baby deer “tap dancing” on the new reservoir lining and punching holes in it. Lauther said sometimes groups of deer would hang out on the new liner which was laid down this past spring.
As with other mountain water districts, GFCSD is paying attention to the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. They recently joined the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association and also receive updates from the El Dorado County Water Agency.
“The Bay-Delta Program has put a lot of emphasis on original water rights,” said Lauther. “We started measuring the water flow at Eagle Ditch to get the hard numbers on our water rights, It’s a concern for any agency. The most important thing is solidifying those rights.”
In the meantime, work continues on maintaining and improving the district’s infrastructure, some of which is 35 to 40 years old.
“We’re working on upgrades and have a whole list of projects,” said Lauther, including fixing up a community park called Grizzly Pond using donations, volunteer time, and T-shirt sales. Clean-up and installation of water and power connections have already been made. Future improvements include a pavilion, restroom, and playground equipment.
“This is a great place to be,” smiled Lauther.