A plan to improve the Tuolumne Utilities District treated water system got a boost toward completion Tuesday when the TUD board of directors voted 5-0 to continue a work agreement with a California consultant to finish work that was placed on hold in December 2011.

The five-member board approved spending up to $108,874 to finish the study, which was undertaken in the first place to see if TUD can consolidate some of its water treatment plants. The utility that provides water to more than 44,000 Tuolumne County residents has more than a dozen different water treatment plants.

District Engineer Erik Johnson told the board the district has a long-term goal of reducing the current number of water treatment plants from 13. Going to a lower number of water treatment plants could improve efficiency, allow for needed upgrades and reduce long-term costs.

Kennedy Jenks Consultants has already done more than $300,000 worth of work for TUD on the study. TUD will pay Kennedy Jenks for completion of the study from its existing capital improvements budget.

Also Tuesday, the TUD board — Barbara Balen, Jim Grinnell, Ron Kopf, Ron Ringen and Bob Rucker — voted 5-0 to go ahead with establishing a new water connection at Curtis Creek Elementary School.

The school has an independent water system tied to a well and regulated by the State Water Board Division of Drinking Water, Johnson told the board. The well’s production has dropped dramatically in recent years due to drought, like scores of other wells in Tuolumne County.

The school’s exclusive reliance on groundwater means there is not enough water to irrigate, and the school does not have adequate fire water flow or fire water storage, Johnson said. The well cannot adequately meet the school’s demands.

Johnson said TUD and the school are collaborating on a grant to fund installation of a new water main down Standard Road to connect to TUD’s existing system. The proposed agreement will not obligate TUD to spend any money. The construction grant will cover TUD expenses for bidding, inspecting and managing the project. The grant will also cover the school’s capacity fee of about $200,000.

Earlier Tuesday, TUD hosted an education session for its elected board as well as some members of the Twain Harte Community Services District board and the Sonora City Council. Brent Ives with Tracy-based BHI Management Consulting talked to the elected leaders and various staff members for more than two hours about values, communication skills and public trust.

It’s vital for elected board members to know and understand the mission statements at their respective agencies, Ives said, using the TUD mission statement as an example: “The session of the Tuolumne Utilities District is to provide: reliable, responsive utility services with dedicated customer service, in a financially responsible manner, and environmentally responsible manner.”

Ives reminded people at the education session that the core of TUD’s mission is providing utilities services, and that the TUD board represents the values and principles of the community they serve.

Elected leaders must be sincere and professional, develop respectful working relationships with each other and be prepared to face criticism, Ives said.

“Don’t let the critical people be right about your agency,” Ives said. “Here’s what happens when the board is not getting along. The general manager becomes risk-averse. … If you disrespect each other you are disrespecting the public. The public out there, they own the agency.”

The session continued through lunch hour, with self-serve sandwiches and salad. Two of the last things Ives reminded attendees were, “We don’t need to give the public more reasons to distrust public agencies,” and “It’s important to remain respectful and responsible when people are critical.”

The TUD board had a brief closed session from 1:45 p.m. to 2 p.m. It was described as a conference with a labor negotiator agency and designated representatives from the Board of Directors, the finance director, the district engineer, the Human Resources director, the operations manager and the general manager. No reportable action was taken.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.

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