Our View: Stanislaus County right to help tract get clean water

July 17, 2013 

When reports come out naming poor valley communities without adequate supplies of clean water, most of the trouble spots are in the southern San Joaquin Valley. But one neighborhood in Stanislaus County repeatedly makes the list: Monterey Park Tract.

The independent special district responsible for providing water to that neighborhood west of Ceres also has had serious leadership and financial problems, which are major reasons for the water problems that have forced many of the households to buy bottled water for drinking.

Now, through persistent effort and cooperation by several organizations, there's a solution in sight for the 47 households in this unincorporated area off Monte Vista Avenue, between Crows Landing and Carpenter roads.

The city of Ceres is willing to extend a pipe out about six miles to the neighborhood and sell the special district potable water from the city system. The water line will only serve that small, existing tract of homes, so it will not encourage or allow the growth of more homes on farmland.

Stanislaus County is providing up to $30,000 in gap financing to allow the Monterey Park Tract Community Services District to take advantage of a $2.2 million state grant to pay for the project. Representatives from Self-Help Enterprises also worked with the district to reach a resolution.

Last year, residents agreed to pay more for their water — and because they're paying more, they also are using less. That's the typical pattern when people start moving to meters and realize how wasteful their habits have been.

The key to success will be for the special district board to follow through on having the water improvements constructed and maintained, and to collect water payments from the property owners so that the district can pay Ceres for the water it is receiving. It also needs to establish a reserve account of at least $75,000 to assure Ceres that it will get paid. As of late June, the district had only $25,000 in its account.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors took the unusual step of agreeing to be a co-signer on the district's financial arrangement, something Ceres wanted because of the district's shaky record on finances.

The worst-case scenarios: The county would have to pick up the tab for the Monterey Tract water bill or it would request that Ceres turn off the water supply and residents there would again have to rely on its wells, which have high levels of nitrates, arsenic, manganese and dissolved solids.

Understandably, county officials have resisted being a rescuer of small, independent districts that get into financial trouble because while the county's budget is big, so are its responsibilities.

In this case, the county broke its own policy, but it was the right thing to do. Access to clean water is a basic need, and soon it will be available to the residents of Monterey Park Tract.

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