Electronic Payment Options for the Water Company – What are They?

Over the last few months we’ve been approached by several members who have asked why the Water Co. doesn’t take credit cards, PayPal, or some other electronic payment option. Great question and one that we recently spent some time researching and discussing.

Here’s what we’ve learned

Credit cards, while convenient for the purchaser, are not necessarily so for the vendor. Depending on the credit card company (i.e. Visa, Mastercard, American Express) the vendor is charged approximately 2-3% (or more) per transaction and by law, the vendor IS NOT allowed to pass on that fee as part of the transaction. They can, however, give a discount for cash or ACH (Automated Clearing House); or can charge more for the service for which the card is used, thereby recouping the transaction fee.

PayPal, for all intents and purposes, works just like credit cards. It charges 2.9% plus $.30 per transaction and it makes clear on its website that a PayPal “vendor” cannot charge a higher fee for PayPal transactions than non-PayPal transactions.

What does that mean?

Using PayPal as an example, for the current quarterly residential bill of $240.00:

1. The Water Co. could “eat” the $7.26 charge ($6.96 + $.30)
2. The Water Co. could “bake in” the above charges but would have to do so for ALL MEMBERS, not just those that pay by PayPal (or credit card) and therefore our rates would go up.
3. In an informal survey of some of our members we learned that the majority of members WERE NOT in favor of paying more so that some would be able to pay their bill with a credit card or PayPal.

So, what are members’ options, then?

Certainly, we can continue to pay our bill by mailing in a check. Some have asked, by the way, why a check just can’t be dropped off.

The simple answer is that: 1) we don’t have a time stamp option at our business office, which is our secretary’s home, and 2) frankly we wouldn’t want members dropping off payments at someone’s home anyway and 3) the postmark is used by our secretary to determine if payment was sent timely.

We get it! We’re members too. It seems silly sometimes to write a check, put it in an envelope, take it to the post office here in town, have them cancel it (not sure if they do that here or if the mail is sent to a larger location) and then put it in our box. However, due to the constraints we’ve outlined, that appears to be the only option.

Well, not entirely!

Bill pay is a fantastic option that would eliminate the need for postage and therefore the requisite trip to the post office while at that same time ensuring that we get the necessary time stamp (postmark) at the business office.

Funny story…After Mark did the research outlined above and presented his findings to the other members of the Board, our President, Mary Young, said something to the effect of “I don’t think we need to go down this credit card/PayPal path; I just use Bill Pay.”

For those of you who know Homer Simpson, it was somewhat of a “Doh!” moment for Mark. Of course! Bill Pay! “Honey, can you set that up, please?”

Depending on your bank you may have different ways of accessing or setting up Bill Pay. On Wells Fargo, for example, you’ll find it under the “Transfer and Pay” tab. For El Dorado Savings Bank it’s located under the “Payments” label. Your bank, or bank’s website, should be able to provide assistance/guidance if you need it.

So, if you’re not already using Bill Pay, and you can, it is a great option. If you can’t, or prefer not too, then yes, we ask that you continue to follow the old-school path and mail in that hard copy check.

An Update on Our Planning Grant

At our last board meeting we realized we hadn’t posted an update on the goings on related to our planning grant since May. So Mary Young, our President, put this report together:

We are moving forward on our planning grant. You may have seen our geotechnical engineer performing soil boring operations or maybe you saw our surveyors setting control for an aerial topographic survey. This is all part of the design of over $10,000,000 in system improvements. 

Construction of these improvements will be funded through a construction grant.  Both the planning and construction grants are funded by the State of California Division of Financial Assistance program for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program.

The figure below shows the improvements currently being designed and a list of the improvements is also shown in the table at the end of this post:

A screenshot of the map showing the location and priority of pipeline improvements for MWC’s planning grant.

Here is a brief summary of the benefits of the Project:

–Replaces existing pipelines most vulnerable to failure, dramatically reducing lifetime O&M costs associated with pipeline repair.

–Addresses all recommended hydraulic improvements, achieving dramatic improvements to available fire flows and increased turnover of Pleasant Valley Tank.

–Increases system reliability by placing the Pleasant Valley Tank feed pumps at the water treatment plant, where a standby propane generator can provide power during a utility outage.

–Provides two tiers of disinfectant byproduct (DBP) control approaches: source control at the water treatment plant (via removal of DBP precursors in GAC reactors, as well as potential improvements to the performance of the DBP precursor removal in the raw water storage / settling tank); and mixing and ventilation at the Pleasant Valley Tank to promote volatilization and removal of a fraction of DBPs.

We are excited to continue working with our engineers on the design of this project as well as working with our partners at the State to complete the construction grant application.

Evaluation of MWC’s water treatment and distribution systems has resulted in the following list of recommended infrastructure improvements:

Pipeline Replacement. Approximately 17,700 lineal feet (LF) of existing pipelines are recommended for replacement. Replacement pipeline diameters generally range from 6 inches to 10 inches. Segments of replacement piping are placed into three groups based on their relative priorities (i.e., Priority 1, Priority 2 and Priority 3 pipelines). Existing service connections and fire hydrants would be replaced along segments of replaced piping. Several new fire hydrants would be included to improve fire protection and assist with unidirectional flushing of the distribution system.

Relocation of Pleasant Valley Pump Station. The existing pump station would be relocated to MWC’s water treatment plant (WTP) to allow electrical backup of the pumps by the standby propane generator MWC has recently installed, and to make room for a new pressure reducing station in the general location of the existing pump station.

New Pressure Reducing Station. A new pressure reducing station would facilitate a reconfiguration of the existing MWC distribution system, allowing the downtown Markleeville area to be fed by water stored in the Pleasant Valley Tank. This change would increase turnover of the tank, thereby reducing water age and improving water quality in parts of the distribution system. Additionally, this change, when coupled with pipeline replacements, will dramatically improve flows to hydrants in the downtown area during a fire event.

Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) Reactor Vessels at WTP. New GAC reactor vessels would be installed at the WTP to provide additional removal of DBP precursor material before finished water enters the distribution system. The vessels would be configured to allow bypassing during periods in which DBP precursor materials easily managed by existing WTP operations.

Tank Mixing Equipment at Pleasant Valley Tank. New mixing equipment would be installed inside the existing tank to promote volatilization and removal of certain DBP species, thereby reducing DBP concentrations in the distribution system. Ventilation equipment would also be installed to promote exchange of tank headspace and facilitate removal of volatilized DBPs.

Replacement Storage Tank(s) at WTP. Replacement of one or more existing tanks at the WTP may be required to accommodate the relocation of the Pleasant Valley Pump Station and the installation of new GAC reactor vessels. Each of the WTP’s existing tanks are over 30 years old and have reached the ends of their useful lives. If the raw water storage tank is replaced, improvements to chemical injection, clarification, and solids removal capabilities may be incorporated to increase removal of DBP precursor material and reduce the quantity of solids reached the WTP’s existing pressure filters.

Relative priorities for the above improvements are presented in Table 1-1 below:

Table 1-1. Relative Priorities of Recommended Improvements
Improvement Element / Proposed Bid ItemPriority (1 = highest priority)
Priority 1 Pipeline Replacement and Affiliated Service Connections and Hydrants1
Relocate Pleasant Valley Pump Station2
New Pressure Reducing Station3
Priority 2 Pipeline Replacement and Affiliated Service Connections and Hydrants4
GAC Reactor Vessels at WTP5
Replacement Storage Tank(s) at WTP6
Tank Mixing Equipment at Pleasant Valley Tank7
Table 1-1. Relative Priorities of Recommended Improvements

For previous posts on this subject you can search “grant” or “planning grant” on our home page.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email us at markleevillewatercompany@gmail.com.

Recent Goings-on at the Markleeville Water Company

Since it’s been awhile since our last post, we thought we’d provide an update in several areas. Here you go!

Operational Meetings & Board Meetings

We held several weekly meetings (the first one was April 1), as we mentioned in this post, and thankfully we didn’t have any emergencies to address. The extra communication that took place was necessary early on but now it isn’t. The systems put in place by our Operator, Buck McLelland, and Kris Hartnett, one of our directors, have paid, and continue to pay, dividends. Buck and Kris communicate daily and anything that needs to be handled is done so quickly and efficiently.  So, we have discontinued the weekly meetings BUT are still holding our monthly meetings (virtually still at this point, thanks to Zoom). Remember, members are welcome to attend. Just email us at markleevillewatercompany@gmail.com for the meeting details. We meet on the 3rd Saturday of the month starting at 8:30 a.m.

Grant Progress

Work is progressing on the planning grant funded by the State of California Division of Financial Assistance (DFA) program; part of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program. Our consultant, West Yost Associates, submitted a draft of the Preliminary Engineering Report on May 15th. Once finalized, this report with be submitted to the State for approval of the recommended project. Once approved, environmental review and engineering design will begin. The primary objectives of the undertaking are to replace aging, failure-prone distribution piping and to implement distribution system changes intended to increase turnover of stored water as well as reductions in the incidence of disinfection byproduct exceedances. Operational changes over the past few years have already reduced these exceedances considerably, so the top priority of the project will be replacing those pipelines. This is a long-term effort, as you know, so continue to stay tuned for further updates.

Generator Progress

Unfortunately, we have not been able to finish the install of the generator due to other, more pressing priorities. We have poured the pad and secured the generator to it. We’ve also gotten the propane tank installed and the electrical is almost completed. Finishing this project remains high on our list, especially in light of fire season, and we hope to have it operational soon.

Water Usage

Unfortunately, due to the dry winter, and per the California Drought Early Warning System, Alpine Co. is in the midst of a moderate drought. Because of this, we ask that you continue conserving water where you can. We also want to remind you that our Water Use Rules & Guidelines (snippet below) remain in effect and can be viewed in their entirety by clicking here.

  • Landscape watering is allowed at even-numbered physical addresses only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, any time between 6 and 10 AM and between 6 and 10 PM.
  • Landscape watering is allowed at odd-numbered physical addresses only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, any time between 6 and 10 AM and between 6 and 10 PM.
  • Landscape watering is NOT allowed on Sundays in order to give our finished water tanks time to refill/replenish.
  • Total landscape watering time is allowed up to two hours per day.

The Truckee Meadows Water Authority has a detailed “Assigned-Day Watering” page which we used as a guide for developing our Rules & Guidelines. Click here to check it out as it has some water saving tips and other relevant articles.

Oh, and by the way, if you are planning on doing any pressure washing at your home, which is allowed per our Water Use Rules & Guidelines, please give us a heads up and keep in mind that your pressure washing unit should be turned off when it’s not in use.

Thank you for being a member! We appreciate you continuing to be a good water steward and wish you, and your families and friends, good health. Continue to stay safe!

Markleeville Water Company Publishes RFP for Engineering Services

Markleeville Water Company (MWC) has published a Request for Proposals (RFP) for Engineering Services for Water System Planning and Improvements.   The engineering services will be funded by a $435,000 planning grant from the California State Water Resources Control Board Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF).

MWC now has a signed Funding Agreement with the State for this grant.  The planning grant project will include a comprehensive evaluation of the MWC distribution system to address failures and issues with disinfection byproducts. Note: this is partially due to the worn, interior surfaces of the existing steel pipes. Replacing them with modern piping will help decrease these issues.

The Project includes preparation of construction documents to the 75% complete level, preparation of environmental review documents, preparation of documents required to apply for the SRF construction grant, and grant administration.

Proposals are due no later than 4:00 p.m. Thursday, August 22nd, 2019. Click here to view and download the RFP.

Markleeville Water Company’s Rising Cost of Repairs

As you know, our water rates have risen substantially over the last two years.  We wanted to take a moment and explain why. There are numerous reasons for these rate increases including the necessity to adhere to state treatment, testing, and water quality standards; legal fees, survey fees, supply costs, and more costly pipe line repairs. The Directors expect some of these costs to remain fairly stable (e.g. supplies and labor for daily operations), and while legal fees may increase modestly, survey fees should decrease. The most significant increase is expected in pipe line repair costs. The increase in this unavoidable expense is largely for two reasons: 

  1. The increasing need to hire outside contractors for repairs
  2. The increased frequency of main line leaks.

Historically, the labor for MWC’s pipeline and system repairs has been accomplished using volunteers, usually company directors, in combination with a minimal amount of paid labor. Fritz Thornburg has provided excavation work and provides his expertise, backhoe and operator time at a much-reduced rate. We’re certainly lucky to have him.

This arrangement is gradually changing, however. As directors and community volunteers age, repairs will increasingly need to be made by outside contractors. With this change, members will at some point in the near future no longer benefit from the savings that this mostly FREE labor has provided. The increased repair costs may be substantial and will add to water rates. 

An illustrative example of the affect of increased repair costs would be the repair made recently to the mainline on Pleasant Valley Road. In order to access the damaged pipe, an excavation 14′ deep 12′ long and 8′ wide was required in addition to side bank shoring and the continual pumping of 14,600 gallons of water from the hole per day. Volunteers provided 100+ labor-hours and Fritz provided 70 hours of backhoe time. 

How does it breakdown?

This comparison illustrates an expected repair cost increase of 300%!  We all need to keep in mind too that this was only one leak and although it was a major repair, we typically have multiple leaks annually. 

Another thing we ask you to consider is that the volunteers, directors and officers of MWC are also members and subject to these same rate increases in addition to the cost of lost income from their regular work schedules.

By giving us almost 40 hours of his time/labor at no charge Fritz voluntarily gave up $3336.25 while saving each residential user approximately $1.48/mo or $17.75/yr. Likewise, other volunteers provided 100 hours of free labor, foregoing $3000 in addition to lost wages ($ they could have made on their regular jobs), and saving each residential user $1.32/mo or $15.96/yr; a total savings to members of $2.81/mo or $33.71/yr .

What’s all of this mean? 

Well, first and foremost, it means we have some awesome members who have done, and continue to do, so much for us all. We owe them all a debt of gratitude, especially Fritz Thornburg. THANK YOU!

Second, the MWC will continue to operate and maintain your water system so that sweet, quality water keeps on coming through all of our taps. 

The time is fast approaching, however when the membership will likely need to pay the non-volunteer (i.e contractor or market) rates for repairs.

Why won’t the grant(s) take care of this?

While things have been moving much slower than we anticipated, we are still on track to get our planning grant, which is a pre-requisite to our construction grant. With these grants we will be able to replace our aging water infrastructure and our hope is to do so within the same time frame that the work on Hot Springs Road is done. That is several years away, though, and so we’ll need to keep things running until then. Once our new pipes are in, we should see substantial savings in terms of repair costs BUT whatever repair costs we do incur will be at the standard, market rate.

We hope this explains the how’s, what’s and why’s and we encourage your feedback! 

You can reply to this blog post, email us at markleevillewatercompany@gmail.com or attend one of our Board meetings, which are the 3rdSaturdays of the month.

Note: If you’d like to attend a board meeting, please RSVP via email.

Thank you in advance for your input, understanding and support. We look forward to hearing from you!

Steve Martin
President, MWC

Update on the Status of our Planning Grant

The planning grant agreement for the Markleeville Water Company has been drafted by the State and is currently under review.  Due to some internal changes with the state’s accounting system, however, the issuance of the agreement has been delayed.  The new timeline for the issuance of the agreement is mid-to-late January.

The planning grant will be used to pay for the design and permitting of new water pipelines and system improvements. The planning grant will also be used to prepare all the documents required to obtain a construction grant from the State.

While there have been some delays we remain optimistic and we’ll continue to provide updates as things move along.


Proposition 68 – A Yes Vote Helps the Markleeville Water Company

While it’s not in our nature to jump on a particular political bandwagon, and so we won’t, we do want all members to know that a yes vote on this proposition helps us all.

MWC Vice-President, Steve Hibbs, has this to say:

If Prop. 68 passes we have a chance of receiving planning grant funds this year for the infrastructure improvements and replacements we need. If it fails we will continue to wait for funding, the timing of which is unknown.

Some folks may raise the valid objection that Prop. 68 is a catchall that includes projects they don’t like or care about. While that may be true, the money Markleeville Water Company needs is in there too and if it fails MWC will be forced to continue to patch the aging and failing infrastructure we have at ever increasing cost to our members.

Our President, Steve Martin, adds this:

Funding for our hoped-for grant is possible only if funds are available, and availability of those funds is dependent upon the passage of Proposition 68.

All of us on the Board will be voting yes on Proposition 68 and we urge you to do the same on June 5th.

Thank you,

Your Markleeville Water Company Board of Directors

The Markleeville Water Company Website – An Unexpected Benefit

When we published the site, and the associated contact form, it was with the idea that members could contact us with questions or concerns. We do have an email address, markleevillewatercompany@gmail.com, but thought it couldn’t hurt to have this online form as well. When our website “contact us” form is submitted, an alert is sent to our email inbox so we can act on it.

As it turns out, there was an added benefit: Last month, someone at a company by the name of Trustee Corps filled out our form asking how it could pay off two (2) liens we had recorded back in November of 2017! That’s the beautiful thing about recorded liens: at some point a title company runs a title search, or something similar, when real property is going to change hands. If any liens are turned up, they must be paid off in order to clear the title and allow the transaction to move forward.

Cha, ching!

In this instance, we were able to promptly get a cashier’s check from the lienee, which needless to say, was a welcome addition to our coffers, and when we write “our” we mean all members – an unexpected benefit for us all and an unforeseen benefit of having a contact form. Technology…what a wonderful thing.