Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone[1] has come up with a plan to construct a sewer system to accommodate his grand vision of expanding Wine Country into a destination resort.

Stone is preparing to take that plan to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“I am asking that the board join me in committing a total of $5 million for this project,” Stone wrote in a report[2] to the board. “This commitment from the county will jump-start sewer construction within the Wine Country region and ensure ongoing economic prosperity of Southwest Riverside County.”

State and local water officials have warned that wineries’ practice of relying on septic systems won’t work if there is a major commercial expansion of Wine Country. They have stressed that the introduction of sewers must accompany the planned tripling of wineries and anticipated opening of many hotels and restaurants.

Financing, however, has been a concern, but Stone said he has figured out a way to pay for a sewer system.

Stone is asking supervisors to authorize a $2 million loan from the county’s waste management enterprise fund to provide upfront funding for the system’s first phase.

He also wants the board to commit $3 million in the future for a second phase, if needed.

The Eastern Municipal Water District[3], which provides sewer service in much of Southwest County, would install the lines.

Charlie Bachmann, Eastern’s assistant general manager in charge of engineering and construction, said the plan is to run a line from Nicolas Road through Roripaugh Ranch, then along Calle Contento to Rancho California Road. It would serve wineries spread along Rancho California from the Temecula city limit to Monte de Oro.

Bachmann said that initial phase is expected to cost $15 million to $18 million.

Stone said the $2 million loan would get the ball rolling and lower the cost for those who hook up to the sewer.

Stone said the loan would be repaid over several years through Wine Country hotel taxes. Those are projected to generate $215,000 in 2012 and $475,000 per year by 2015.

George Johnson, director of the county Transportation and Land Management Agency, said a major hotel expansion is under way.

Wine Country has 110 hotel rooms now, but that will grow to 170 with the opening of 60 rooms at the Ponte winery by early May, Johnson said.

By 2015, the number of rooms is expected to reach 525, he said.

The hotel tax is 10 percent.

Seeking to alleviate a concern that arose during the recent writing of a Wine Country Community Plan[4], the blueprint for expansion that is driving the sewer project, Stone emphasized that no existing winery or homeowner will be forced to hook up to the line.

“Nobody has to feel concerned that they are being inappropriately taxed,” Stone said in a telephone interview Thursday. “If they want to, though, they can.”

Going forward, anyone who builds a winery or a residential subdivision of five or more homes along Rancho California will have to tie in, he said.

Some big players have agreed to participate in the project. Bachmann said owners of five wineries[5] —- South Coast, Mount Palomar, Ponte, Europa Village and Callaway —- have signed agreements to put up money. Stone said that collectively, they will provide $4 million.

Later, a second phase would extend the sewer almost to Lake Skinner, Bachmann said.

With Stone’s vision to expand the number of wineries from 35 to 100 or more, state water quality officials say a sewer system is an absolute must.

“These resorts will generate a lot of wastewater,” Bachmann said. “I’m not sure if physically they could get it into the ground” through septic tanks.

Matt Stone, general manager for the Rancho California Water District[6], said the sewage could contaminate groundwater, causing levels of salts and nitrates to spike.

And that’s a big concern for the agency that serves drinking water to all of Temecula and a portion of western Murrieta.

The Wine Country sits on top of a large aquifer, or underground reservoir, that provides anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the drinking water in Temecula, Stone said.

“It’s a fairly significant component, and it’s our lowest-cost supply,” Stone said, noting that distant, imported river water is much more expensive. “So protecting the quality of the water is very important.”

Also on Tuesday, supervisors will be asked to allocate $300,000 in developer fees through June 2013 to finalize a plan for new Wine Country equestrian trails.

Supervisors also will consider increasing payments to RBF Consulting, which wrote an environmental report for the Wine Country plan, by $42,000 to $271,346. 

Supervisors are scheduled to meet[7] at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the first-floor auditorium of the county administrative center, 4080 Lemon St., Riverside.

It is anticipated that public hearings on the Wine Country plan will begin in June.

Call staff writer Dave Downey at 951-676-4315, ext. 2623.

References

  1. ^ Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone (www.supjeffstone.org)
  2. ^ report (rivcocob.com)
  3. ^ The Eastern Municipal Water District (www.emwd.org)
  4. ^ Wine Country Community Plan (www.socalwinecountryplan.org)
  5. ^ wineries (www.temeculawines.org)
  6. ^ Rancho California Water District (www.ranchowater.com)
  7. ^ scheduled to meet (rivcocob.com)

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