The Tuolumne Utilities District didn't ride in like the U.S. Cavalry, but it was close.

After all, nearly 200 Matt Dillon Water Co. customers in the Curtis Creek and Wards Ferry areas were getting what bordered on Third World service from their provider when TUD came to the rescue.

Dillon customers say problems date back nearly two decades, when the upscale Curtis Creek Ranch's first homes were built. Through much of the period, users have been plagued by cloudy, smelly and periodically contaminated water.

Finding bacteria in the private utility's supply, Tuolumne County Environmental Health Department officials have issued numerous orders requiring customers to boil their water before drinking it. At one public meeting, an outraged resident raised a jar of murky water with sediment floating in it.

The water company, now owned by developer Bob Cowden and Diane Beauchamp, serves not only Curtis Creek Ranch, but Black Oak Hills, Diamond Bar B Ranch, Yost Ranch and Wards Ferry Ranches. Some residents no doubt bought what they thought would be dream homes, only to find that the water at least at times was more like that of Mexico City or Calcutta.

For years complaining did not do a lot of good.

The Environmental Health Department, with more than 25 local water systems to track, monitored the water and issued periodic orders, but action was often slow in coming and solutions did not last.

The California Public Utilities Commission, with thousands of providers throughout the state to police, received complaints and petitions from Matt Dillon customers, but did nothing to fix the system.

Customers often complained that the company was unreachable and unresponsive.

The owners responded that they were doing their best to solve the problems, but that lack of cash and strings of bad luck that compounded problems only worsened the situation.

After years of futility, TUD stepped in last summer.

To avoid court proceedings and potential receivership, TUD in July agreed to seek "a mutually acceptable transfer agreement" with Matt Dillon. If everything went smoothly, former TUD General Manager Gary Egger predicted at the time, customers could begin receiving reliable, clean water in about two years.

So far the district is on target: A tentative deal has been struck, surcharges have been established and last night separate improvement districts for the Curtis Creek and Wards Ferry areas were established.

Although their water bills will jump substantially to fund needed system improvements, Dillon customers are almost unanimously behind the switch.

But TUD has heard the future customers' concerns about the new charges: District directors early this month agreed to stretch out its improvement loan by 10 years, thus cutting the monthly surcharge to be paid by Curtis Creek area residents from $62 to $50.

TUD should be commended for its role in solving the small water company's persistent problems. It has been responsive, responsible and sensitive to the needs of customers who had run out of options.

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Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller, City Editor Craig Cassidy and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.