Lyon County officials look at acquiring troubled water company
Appeal Staff Writer
Crystal Clear Water Co. in Yerington may soon be in the hands of Lyon County.
“We’re working with the (Public Utility Commission) to try to determine what some of our options are,” said County Manager Donna Kristaponis, who supports taking over the troubled company.
“You know how sometimes you don’t want to take things on, but this is why government exists,” she said. “You just sometimes just have to step in and do it. It protects the health, safety and welfare of citizens and that’s what government is supposed to do.”
Crystal Clear Water Co. serves about 108 residents of El Rancho Estates east of Yerington. Company owners Bill and Diane Brandt have been trying to sell the company.
The company has been in violation of new arsenic standards, though it will likely receive a three-year waiver to meet the standards. Even with the extension, new expensive treatment equipment would have to be installed by 2009.
Bill Brandt said he would prefer to sell to a private company.
“We’d like to have a private buyer, because it doesn’t look good for us with the county buying it because they told us there wouldn’t be any money involved,” he said. “They’d just take it from us.”
He said several companies had expressed interest, but then some backed out and the state nixed one possibility.
Brandt couldn’t give an estimate on the value of the company.
“I feel its worth is what the water rights are worth,” he said. “And that’s 142 acre-feet of water rights. But it’s an older company, water pressure is down and it needs a lot of reclaiming.”
Brandt, who has owned the company for about three years, said many small, private water companies are struggling.
“I’ve talked to others in water who are just letting it go,” he said. “It’s a tough business, especially with the new arsenic rules. And being private we can’t get any kind of grants or any kind of deal.”
Kristaponis said that the county could apply for grants and low-interest loans for which a private company would not qualify, making a county takeover of the company in the best interest of the company’s customers.
She was under no illusions about the problems plaguing the 1970s-era water system.
“We will not do this without bringing the system up to today’s standards,” she said. “It doesn’t comply with arsenic regulations, water pressure is so bad that frequently in the summer there is none.”
She said the commissioners authorized county staff to negotiate with the owners and research the feasibility of taking the water company over, but that if private owners expressed a viable interest, the county would step aside.
Mike Workman, Lyon County utilities director, agreed that acquiring the company would be a major undertaking.
He said the compliance issue would have to be faced, grants would have to be applied for and design and pre-engineering strategies would have to be created to upgrade service.
Workman added that a takeover would not increase the rates of current Lyon Utilities customers or be a burden to county taxpayers.
“Because it is an enterprise fund, it’s not spread out among the tax base or other county utilities customers,” he said. “That’s why water or user rates for smaller utilities can be so high, it’s not spread out among a large number.”
Any county takeover would mean that all costs of upgrades would be charged to the customers of Crystal Clear Water Co., increasing their $45 monthly bill by between $10 and $50.
Kristaponis said the main benefit to the county is they are doing their jobs helping constituents. “I think it makes us feel good about what we do,” she said. “We’re helping people out who aren’t in a good situation.”
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111, ext. 351.