Ken Carlson

County will discuss water issues, drought at meeting in Denair

Pipes hang along a dried irrigation canal on a field farmed by Gino Celli near Stockton on May 18. Stanislaus County’s water advisory committee will hold a community meeting in Denair on emergency assistance and groundwater during the drought.
Pipes hang along a dried irrigation canal on a field farmed by Gino Celli near Stockton on May 18. Stanislaus County’s water advisory committee will hold a community meeting in Denair on emergency assistance and groundwater during the drought. The Associated Press

As drought conditions intensify this summer, Stanislaus County’s water advisory committee will hold a community meeting in Denair on emergency assistance and groundwater.

The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Denair Community Center, 3850 Gratton Road.

Keith Boggs, an assistant county chief executive officer, said Supervisor Vito Chiesa requested the meeting after a similar one was held in Knights Ferry on June 25. Chiesa and Supervisor Bill O’Brien represent areas in the eastern portion of the county where residents are concerned about groundwater, the drought and extensive planting of almond orchards fed by groundwater.

Some of their constituents have dry residential wells.

Boggs said he expects county water resources manager Walter Ward will talk about the advisory panel’s work on groundwater planning. Officials also will discuss the county’s three-pronged response to the harsh effects of the four-year drought:

▪  The county has low-interest loans for homeowners who need to replace dry wells. Households with annual income below a cap of around $83,000 are eligible. Senior applicants are given preference.

▪  The county has teamed with Self-Help Enterprises to provide a temporary water supply to homeowners with dry wells. A storage tank and small pump will be installed to restore water to the home for residents, as they wait months for a drilling contractor to sink a new well. Eligibility is not based on income. A “Temporary Water Assistance Homeowner Application” is available at www.stancounty.com.

▪  County staff members are working on incentives for well contractors to put residential customers higher on their waiting lists.

Chiesa said he wants residents who attend the Aug. 12 meeting to know what assistance is available and understand the county’s work on long-term groundwater management. “There is uncertainty out there,” Chiesa said. “We can’t provide a lot of certainty, but we can let them know we are on the path to accomplish something.”

The supervisor said he believes drillers can give more priority to domestic wells, so that homeowners don’t have to wait nine months or longer for a new well. Drillers have been busy with orders for agricultural wells, for which the county issued hundreds of permits last year.

“Some of the agricultural folks are just wanting backup wells, and as long as they have water capabilities, we are trying to get the drillers to work on the domestics,” Chiesa said.

He noted that board Chairman Terry Withrow has been talking with the drilling industry.

HEALTH INSURANCE STICKER SHOCK

Blue Shield of California gave an explanation for the sharp increases in premiums for its Covered California health plans in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Families and single adults who rely on Obamacare coverage will experience sticker shock next year when premiums jump by an average 10 percent in Stanislaus and nearby counties.

Supporters of national health reform are jubilant that Covered California premium hikes in 2016 will average 4 percent statewide for the second straight year, but most of the celebrating is in other pricing regions. (Covered California divides the state into 19 different pricing areas.)

Blue Shield proposes to raise its rates by 10 percent to 32 percent for health plans in our region. Its premiums in 2016 “will vary significantly by region and metal tier, as this is the first year that we had actual claims data upon which to base pricing,” the insurer said this week.

According to the statement, Blue Shield’s pricing by region is an accurate reflection of costs and includes anticipated changes to contracts with hospitals and health care providers. Its pricing by health plan is based on more accurate utilization numbers and proposed benefit changes, the insurer said.

Blue Shield said the proposed rate increases in the pricing region that includes Stanislaus and nearby counties are driven by the amount of health care used by customers and some changes in its provider network.

About 68,000 residents in the five-county pricing region (Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced, Mariposa and Tulare) renewed coverage or registered for health plans this year through Covered California, the agency that administers the Affordable Care Act in the state.

In our region, Anthem Blue Cross proposes to raise premiums an average of 11 percent; Kaiser Permanente proposes a 5 percent increase and Health Net a 4 percent hike. Covered California health insurance plans are offered under Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum tiers, with cover levels for medical costs ranging from 60 percent to 90 percent.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321

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