Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Bad, Part I

I alluded to some bad that has happened during my hiatus. Actually, a lot. First, here's some basics and a tiny taste of some of the negativity.

As I've mentioned, Boyfriend manages a small water company. It's a "mutual" so that means that all the customers "own" a piece of it. It's been run by the "good ol' boys" club for the past 40 years. They've never had a licensed operator to run the place and somehow managed to get away with it. Nothing was updated or upgraded. Band-aides were put on only when forced. Being so small, the state turned a blind eye. Until the last couple years. And the band-aides aren't working anymore.

Last year, the state finally inspected the surface water treatment plant and found some deficiencies - because it's 60 years old. Because of these deficiencies, when we have to use the river and run the treatment plant, we have to issue a boil advisory, per state law. Due to the drought, we've had to use the river to since March, about 4 months earlier than normal. We have 5 wells that, up until now, have provided adequate or near adequate water supply. But they are slowly running dry; two of them are dead in the water. One is consistent, and two are intermittent. If we don't get any rain this winter, by the first of the year we could be forced to use the river as our only supply. By law, we can only pull so much out of the river in a day; plus our plant is only designed to handle that maximum amount in a day. Any more than that and it just overflows and goes right back into the river.

Another problem is that when Boyfriend started, none of the customers were metered. Everyone pays a flat rate for what they believe is "unlimited water". No one has ever really been able to show these people how much water they waste. Earlier in the year, we instituted a strict water waste policy (well, strict for these people anyway), where if water was in the street, it's waste and fines are added to their account. We even made sure to take pictures to prove to people. They would argue about it while letting it continue to run in the street that they "pay their bill and therefore can use as much water as I want". Seriously.

A lot of changes have happened in a very short period of time. Boyfriend started last December, I started in April and the three Board Members have only been around a year or less each. They are all learning and have been surprised to learn how bad of shape the system is. They agreed to updating the water waste policy so that there were fines attached; they agreed to changing the due date (it used to be the 10th of the month and I suggested the 15th or 20th, they chose the 15th) and agreed that the due date should be enforced; they agreed to do public monthly board meetings, even though as a mutual, we don't have to; they loved the idea of a newsletter to go out with the bills; they want the water company to become a non-profit so we can pursue grant funding; they want meters installed.

All of us are aware that a lot of our customers have lived here for 20, 30 or even 40 years and they aren't used to the changes. They don't like and they don't want it. As one customer shouted during a special informational meeting about becoming a non-profit, "WE DON'T WANT METERS! WE DON'T WANT THEM!!" The anger over meters shocked the shit out of our panel. We had invited our attorney, our drinking water engineer from Ca Dept of Health, our waste water engineer from the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and a gal from Cal Rural Water Association; who are all in favor of us becoming a non-profit.

So what are people concerned with? Rates. That's it.

They associate changing to a non-profit with rate increases. They associate meters with rate increases. They associate grants with rate increases. They associate loans with rate increases. They believe we are fixing the wrong things first. They believe we're spending money where we don't need to.

They want an all new system with a guarantee of zero rate increases. They want us to replace the distribution system first because the pipes are old. However, our drinking water engineer says that is one of the lowest things on their list to fund, while things like new surface water treatment plants, new wells, new storage tanks - those are priorities.

We actually had some guy who, even after the difference between a grant and a loan were explained, said he didn't want to pay back a grant and would rather pay back a loan. He believed that it's fair that he pays $40 a month for water and two people live in his house, and a few houses down there's a house with 10 people living in it and they only pay $40 a month of water. He didn't believe, however, that his bill would go up at all in order to pay back the loan(s).

We have people that tell us that meters are a complete waste of money and they are inaccurate. We've installed approximately 35 meters. In July, we found 12 houses that used nearly 1 million gallons of water. One house alone used 240,000 gallons; the previous owner's son tried to blame that on the water company - that my guys installed a meter and broke pipes and refused to fix them. But Boyfriend didn't some looking around and discovered that someone had purposefully set the toilet to run non-stop. Meters have also shown some people just how much they actually use. One guy, who has one of the nicest and greenest yards was shocked to see that in two weeks he had used nearly 30,000 gallons. After that we noticed he cut back a bit.

We have not decided on a rate structure; that will probably happen sometime next year once meters are completed. We've been using a nearby water company's rate structure as an example since they are smaller than us. We've discovered that some people's bills would actually go down; some would stay the same, and yes, some would go up. But we're finding there are people who don't think it's fair to pay for the water that they themselves are using.

While this is just some of the negativity, there is more. Much, much more.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Unexpected Hiatus

I realize it's been a little more than a month since my last blog post. I have thought about blogging each one of those days, but life simply got in my way; it wore me out. In the last month I have not even opened my laptop. I've missed blogging, but like I said, life literally wore me out.

The past month has been full of so much, both good and bad, which overshadowed the good.

The good? Boyfriend and I closed on a house just before Labor Day weekend (the last weekend of August). We moved that same weekend and the house is still in disarray. We closed about two weeks early and life had severely limited how much I had been able to pack up. So the weekend we moved was the weekend everything got packed. Boyfriend's Mom came and spent the weekend with us to help us get stuff packed up. My parents came up to see the new house and got roped into helping a little bit. My Mom came and helped me clean the rental a couple weeks ago.

We love our new digs. It's old and it's dated and needs a lot of work inside. But there's great potential. In fact, my cousin and her husband are on their way up to give us a quote on doing drywall - he's a contractor. The inside of the house boasts not one but four different colors of wood paneling from the mid-70s. I shit you not. It also boasts two kinds of yellow wallpaper in the kitchen. The carpet definitely needs to be replaced, and the owners told us that there is red oak hardwood flooring under the carpet upstairs in the living area. The basement needs a coat of paint as the walls are filthy and the carpet was torn by the renters as they moved out.

The good about the house? It feels like we're camping. There's no traffic that goes by the house as we're the last on the road. There's a retaining wall/terrace out back that needs some love. We're on our own private well and the water is great. We no longer live next to our customers in the water district. We have a basement with a kick ass laundry room (it's so big!!). We have a nice back deck made of Trex Decking, and Boyfriend has a place to put his BBQ. We have half a dozen fruit trees. We have just under 8 acres of peace and quiet. Granted most of it is up a ridge, but that's okay. We got a brand spankin' new propane tank as the service valve was found to be leaking - and that was the propane company's cost, not ours - haha! The kitchen is a real good size and we have counter space again (the rental had none). I have a nice full-size pantry and lots of cupboard space. Most importantly? We can do whatever we want to this place and make it ours.

To start that off, we went to Home Depot on Labor Day for their big sale. We shopped for a new refrigerator and found one that was reasonably priced and just what we wanted and needed. (Fortunately, our landlord was kind enough to let us borrow the fridge from the rental until our fridge was delivered! It's currently in the garage). However, Home Depot said it would delivered in 7 days, and when we didn't hear from them, we called them and said it wasn't even in yet. Then when it was in, it came off the truck damaged. So they wanted to reorder it, which would be another 10 days out. We were very unhappy and let them know it so they gave us a $3,500 fridge instead - the one we wanted and purchased as $1,600. Holla! We also spent time furniture shopping and decided just yesterday (Saturday) on a couch - we sat on it and loved it. And Boyfriend was able to haggle the sales guy pretty well and got a decent deal on it. It's a large chocolate colored sectional with a chaise lounge on it. OMG it's soooooo comfy! We have been enjoying it since the moment it arrived. My rule is that we don't eat on it. That's what our recliners are for. However, with the huge-ass couch and two recliners, our big living room is suddenly much, much smaller. lol

Lacey and Wyatt (the kitties), also love their huge new play house. Unfortunately, while Boyfriend and I were living in the basement - hoping we can get drywall and carpet done soon, every time the cats are upstairs it sounds like a herd of horses running around.We had to lock them in the basement with us every night or they'll keep Boyfriend up all night playing. Although, they did still get in trouble by making noise. I wear ear plugs because Boyfriend has a tendency to snore loud enough to wake the dead, so I don't hear the cats. Which just pisses him off. On the carpet and drywall, well, that's going to take awhile, and after the fridge and couch, the practical me says to hold off awhile. Besides, my cousin's hubby is behind on his projects as he has a part-time job as well because of the economy. So we moved all of our stuff upstairs.

Lacey has decided that she much prefers it outside. She's finding all kinds of lizards and things to eat. I think that once it gets real cold outside, she will be more willing to stay inside. Wyatt doesn't mind being outside, but he seems to prefer the house, especially for snoozing during the day.

Boyfriend brought home a new kitten a week ago. He was in a lot trouble for doing so. But he put her on my shoulder and she just sat there and he kept telling me that she's never done that before and that she usually hates being held. I decided to name her Katniss. However, up until the last couple days, we've been calling her Shitty Kitty because she has taken it upon herself to shit all over the house. With diarrhea. I took her to the vet at the end of last week and he gave me some medicine for the diarrhea and also a ton of food samples that were grain free. The medicine seems to be helping and I won't change her food until we're done with it, because if I don't need to, I won't. She is actually Wyatt's half sister. Their mother really needs to be spayed.

The bad that happened in that same time . . . well, I will leave for another post. I don't want to end this on a sour note.

What we really love about this place is the peace and quiet. That and we no longer live amongst our customers. Because, trust me, it was not turning out well. We can come home and relax a little. And I'm hoping that Boyfriend will be able to immerse himself in the house and the property and the projects and forget about work for a little while. He already has someone that has asked him to make a bar top.