REGIONAL — With a slowdown in construction during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Zone 7 Water Agency Board voted to block a scheduled increase in water connection fees in 2021.

At its Oct. 21 virtual meeting, the board decided unanimously that it won’t be raising the water connection fee by 1.7%, as it had forecast last year. The agency sets a schedule for future raises, based on an analysis of projected water demand every three to five years.

The board’s vote adopted its Finance Committee recommendation to freeze the rates. Board Vice President Angela Ramirez-Holmes said she brought up the fee freeze at the committee meeting.

“I see our community struggling in terms of development and housing,” Ramirez-Holmes said. “Also, our projects here at Zone 7 are down as well. In the past, our increases have been 3% or 4%. Now it’s time to show support for our community.”

Another study on rate-setting in 2022 will give fresh information about future needs, continued Ramirez-Holmes.

General Manager Valerie Pryor agreed that 1.7% won't make a significant impact on the various payments to which the agency is obligated.

“When we do the fee study in 2022, we’ll have more information,” she said.

Board President Olivia Sanwong said she supported Ramirez-Holmes’ view that an increase in rates during a difficult economic time should not be approved.

The current, one-time only connection fee is $29,440 per unit to be paid by developers in Alameda County. Developers pay $28,250 per unit in Dougherty Valley, which is in Contra Costa County.

The discrepancy exists because in the early years of the 21st century, Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) asked Zone 7 to wheel developer-paid water to Dougherty Valley. DSRSD wanted to sell more water so it could lower the per-acre foot cost of its water treatment expansion, according to former DSRSD general manager Bob Beebe.

The fees will remain in effect until the board changes them.

In addition, the board heard a report on a Zone 7 effort to develop a virtual k-5 school program concerning water. For years, Zone 7 has conducted educational programs on the topic in all the Tri-Valley school districts. The new effort, which has run tests in some schools, will help students continue learning at home.

At the beginning of the school year, Zone 7 invited past participants into the virtual lessons. Teachers can assign water lessons as independent work for students to complete on their own or may choose to do the lessons virtually with their students. The lessons were developed by credentialed teachers who have extensive experience in water education.

The program will be expanded to other grade levels eventually, said Zone 7 spokeswoman Alexandra Bradley.

For the fourth consecutive year, directors heard news that Zone 7 has received a certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association. Assistant General Manager Osborn Solitei is employed as the head of finance for Zone 7.