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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Devore residents battling with the water company over a multi-million dollar tank on board member’s land

The rural hillside community of Devore has exploded in a dispute pitting a small local water company against a group of residents to protest the construction of a potential $7 million reservoir on a board member’s property.

There is a 99-year land lease agreement with some of the residents, which was approved in July 2021 between Devore Water Company and Doug Claflin, a member of the company’s board of directors. This water would allow the company to build a 610,000-gallon water tank on Claflin’s property to treat nitrate-contaminated water by mixing it with clean water to reduce nitrate levels. The tank will also be used to extinguish the fire.

Paul Kirkland stands outside the estate of Devore Water Company board member Doug Claflin, where the proposed 610,000-gallon water tank is planned to be built. (Photo by Joe Nelson)

Conflict over the land lease agreement has caused high tension between board members and the group of residents opposing the project, with vocal disputes – sometimes involving profanity – erupting during board meetings.

land lease deal

Among other things, Claflin was asked to receive an annual water loan of $7,500, which would increase or decrease annually based on the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Consumer Price Index, which residents said was about 2%.

“I think this lease is abusive and that he (Claflin) is taking advantage of his neighbors and making profits,” said resident Vicky Kennedy. “It’s not the solution we’re looking for.”

Claflin could not be reached for comment.

The 112-year-old Devore Water Company provides water to more than 1,600 residents through 495 service connections in a community nestled in the hills opposite Glen Helen Regional Park, where Interstates 215 and 15 meet at the entrance to Cajon Pass.

Angry residents, waving signs with bold declarations such as “Stop the Steel,” have been protesting outside the Devore Water Company office recently located in a modest metal building at the corner of Kenwood Avenue and Old Devore Ranch Canyon Road.

Dewar residents during a recent protest outside the Deor Water Company building over a land lease agreement between the company and one of its board members.  The lease will allow the construction of a 650,000-gallon water tank on the property of board member and secretary-treasurer Doug Claflin.  (Photo by Joe Nelson)
Devore residents during a recent protest outside the Deor Water Company building over a land lease agreement between the company and one of its board members. The lease will allow board member Doug Claflin to build a 610,000-gallon water tank on the property. (Photo courtesy Vicky Kennedy)

negotiating again

Board chairman Valerie Henry said the issue had become so contentious that the water company’s lease agreement with Claflin was now being renegotiated, and the 99-year term had now expired.

It is not clear whether the consumer price index clause will be there in the lease agreement. Henry disagrees with opponents that Claflin stands to advantage.

“The CPI can go up or down, and, if we go bearish, it will fall, and they don’t take that into account,” Henry said. “(Claflin) was trying to do something that was appropriate.”

She said Claflin would only be compensated for the portion of her land needed to accommodate the water tank, which she said would also devalue her property.

Henry also denied that residents were told that Claflin had donated his property in 2020. She said the board informed residents that a community member had made available his property, and a deal was still being worked out.

Paul Kirkland, a retired federal corrections officer, said the removal of the 99-year clause and CPI provisions from Claflin’s lease agreement would placate him and possibly most other residents who oppose the project. But he still has his doubts.

“What changes will happen? What if (Klaflin) raises a monthly amount to cover the CPI’s loss? No,” Kirkland said. has arrived. … the community wants an audit.”

nitrate contamination

Successful completion of a water tank is the largest component in bringing Devore Water Company into compliance with an order by the California State Water Resources Control Board to reduce recurring spikes in groundwater nitrate levels, in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. .

Spikes in nitrate levels in Devore, a rural unincorporated community dotted with farmland and farmland, are mainly caused by periods of heavy rainfall, which push groundwater upstream into nitrate-saturated soils.

Additionally, septic tanks and agricultural discharges contribute to the spikes, according to a study by Riverside-based Krieger & Stewart Engineering Consultants.

For the past five years, the water company has been struggling to comply with a July 2017 order by the Water Resources Control Board to address the problem of repeated nitrate contamination in groundwater. Henry said it has had to request two extensions because of the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Nitrate levels exceeded the state-mandated minimum of 10 parts per million in May, July and September of 2017, from levels of 11 to 16 parts per million. Prior to this, nitrate levels had increased throughout 2011, exceeding the state’s minimum of 225 days from January to July, according to the October 2020 WRCB compliance order issued to the water company.

According to the compliance order, in 2019, nitrate levels exceeded a minimum of 10 to 12 parts per million in the state from May to July.

Deadlines and Commitments

Now, the water company is under the gun to take the project forward. Henry said the state has given the company until July to bid the project, by August to award a contract, and by October to begin construction, which should be completed within a year.

Claflin’s neighbor Bob Morris said he volunteered his property for the tank at no cost. “I told them they could put it anywhere,” he said recently outside his house.

Henry said the offer came too late. He said building the water tank on Morris’s land would now require a new engineering study at a cost of $155,000 and would take 16 weeks to complete. She said the water would leap up a gap in front of the company in state-mandated directives and deadlines.

“We have to open and go out to bid in July, and we’re on a tight time crunch right now,” Henry said, adding that the state has already approved engineering plans, and now the water company is in the process. Applying for a state loan to help cover the cost of the project.

Henry said inflation is another issue that prompts the board to act quickly. “We’ll be talking about $7 million by the time this project is done,” Henry said.

what residents want

Kirkland’s wife, Mitchell, said the board sent a ballot to all shareholders asking whether they wanted the tank to be relocated or to keep it employed for Claflin’s estate.

“Even knowing that the project would cost the community $155,000 to redesign, about 66% of those voted wanted to move the tank,” she said.

She said the community is willing to pay the price knowing that it will save money in the long run.

Michelle Kirkland said, “This project has gone back and forth with the state for so long that we are going to be able to afford this project and its contents.” “We need to treat the water and actually have water that the community feels safe to drink.”

Henry disputed the importance of the 66% vote tally, noting that only 30% of the 735 company shareholders turned up on the ballots.

“And that’s not the majority,” she said.

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