Directors of the Garberville Sanitary District worked through a full agenda, including an unexpected late item, at their monthly board meeting last Tuesday, Aug. 28, which ran for nearly five hours.
They heard a report on a critical equipment failure, reviewed a warning letter from the State Water Resources Control Board, and considered a proposal for reorganization of district staff.
The board also approved the district’s budget for the new fiscal year, heard a report from their auditor on last year’s audit and a progress report on the drinking water treatment project, as well as dealing with a number of routine matters.
Replacement of the failed intake pump was completed at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, and the treatment plant was back to full production by meeting time, operations manager Ron Copenhafer reported.
The intake pump, which draws water from the South Fork Eel River and pumps it up the hill to the current treatment facility on the Hurlbutt property above town, failed shortly after midnight on Monday, probably due to a bearing problem.
When the GSD storage tank dropped below a set level at 4 a.m. Monday, the system automatically notified the operator on duty, who in turn called Copenhafer, who immediately went to work diagnosing the problem, ordering a new pump, and asking for help from water haulers and nearby water suppliers.
Redway Community Services District provided approximately 175,000 gallons of water to help GSD through the crisis. When RCSD’s reserve tank at the Meadows Business Park, the closest location to Garberville, dropped to less than half its capacity, the Benbow Water Company stepped up to the plate to get GSD through the night.
Trucks from local bulk water suppliers, including Pura Vida and H2O To Go, usually customers of GSD, hauled water constantly for the duration of the crisis. A line of water trucks could be seen all day Monday going up Melville Road in Garberville to the water tank up the hill.
The pump that failed last Monday replaced a previous pump that failed in January 2009. GSD has not kept a duplicate pump in stock because new pumps carry warranties of only one year from date of sale, meaning that the warranty on a second pump is likely to expire before it is put into service, Copenhafer explained.
When the new drinking water treatment plant is completed, the system will include a "duplex pump system," said Jennie Short, GSD capital improvements project coordinator, providing built-in redundancy.
Cost of the replacement pump is around $10,000 plus installation costs.
The water haulers will be repaid for their service at approximately $100 per tank load, Copenhafer said. Redway operations manager Ken Dean told the Redwood Times that the RCSD board of directors will make the decision whether to seek reimbursement for their costs.
Copenhafer also briefly addressed questions about the mysterious water flows on Melville Road and Locust Street near Ray’s Food Place. The cause has not yet been identified, but Copenhafer noted that the area around Ray’s and the neighboring office and shop complex was a willow marsh where the groundwater is still extremely high.
It’s possible one or both of the flows could be caused by a spring, but Copenhafer has not ruled out the possibility of leaks in water lines. He arranged for contractor John Neill to excavate in the area to check for leaks as soon as Neill was available.
Bulk Water Sales
A local property owner filed complaints with the State Water Resources Control Board regarding GSD’s sales of bulk water to water haulers. The complainant was concerned that sales of district water for use outside the South Fork Eel River watershed is a violation of GSD’s water rights permit, particularly since the South Fork is a federal and state designated Wild and Scenic River.
Since GSD did not become aware of this complaint until it received a letter from SWRCB after the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting was posted, the item was added as an "urgent matter," which is allowed under certain circumstances under the California Open Meeting Act (Brown Act).
SWRCB’s letter states that GSD’s operating license and permit allow them to divert a total of approximately 0.75 cubic feet per second but no more than 430 acre-feet per year from the South Fork "for municipal purposes with the GSD place of use."
If the district is selling water for use outside its "place of use," it may be subject to "enforcement under California Water Code... The State Board also may issue a Cease and Desist Order," the letter continued.
"Place of use" is generally viewed as district boundaries, Short said, adding that this restriction is one reason that areas currently being served by pipelines outside the district need to be annexed.
But she also checked with the State Department of Fish and Game (DFG), which is responsible for administering the Wild and Scenic River designation. DFG environmental scientist Jane Arnold told Short that the Wild and Scenic designation is a recreational designation with a lower standard of regulation than an environmental designation.
From DFG’s standpoint, Arnold felt that as long as the water is used within the Southern Humboldt/Northern Mendocino region GSD is not in violation of the Wild and Scenic River designation, even though the trucked water might be delivered to a different watershed, such as the Mattole.
The SWRCB, however, is concerned with license and permit violations regardless of the river’s designation. GSD directors voted unanimously to direct Short to respond to the state board’s questions and to do further research on their options.
Revenue from bulk water sales is about $20,000 per year. Currently bulk water providers pay a fee that allows them to take water from a hydrant at the south end of Garberville. They are also charged for the amount of water they take, based on "the honor system;" that is, their owners report to the GSD, because the hydrant is unmetered.
While GSD board members said they prefer to continue serving people living in rural areas who rely on district water during the dry season, which they see as a health and safety issue, they agreed that they could not risk the district’s legal ability to provide water for the town of Garberville.
Before they face this choice, board members want to be sure they understand the regulations and what legal options might exist to allow the district to continue selling water to bulk providers.
GSD office manager Tina Stillwell presented the board with staff’s proposal for reorganization of district operations.
Rather than hiring a new general manager, staff recommended that Stillwell’s position be changed to business manager, that operations manager Copenhafer’s position be expanded to include working with engineers and regulatory agencies, and that Short’s position be retitled "projects manager." The three managers would report directly to the board.
Additionally, former employee Bunny Valk has returned to the GSD office as administrative assistant.
The board discussed the current staff’s qualifications for the new positions in closed session, and then unanimously accepted the proposal. For the next several months, the three managers will report to the board at an open meeting every two weeks beginning Sept. 11.
"We’re going to take it one day at a time and see how it goes," Stillwell said.
The board also passed GSD’s two budgets for fiscal year 2012-13, one for drinking water and one for wastewater, after an item-by-item review.
In part because of unexpected expenses already incurred, most notably replacing the intake pump, the water budget projects a negative cash flow of $46,000. This means that projected revenues are $46,000 less than projected expenses from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.
To offset this, GSD can dip into its nearly $600,000 in reserves, which are usually set aside for major capital projects like the new drinking water treatment plant. When the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) approves the funding for the project, GSD’s reserves will be reimbursed from those monies.
On the wastewater side, the budget projects a positive cash flow of $65,000 for fiscal year 2012-13.
Water Project Update
Short reported that the drinking water project went to bid on Aug. 12. Bids will be opened on Sept. 20, and the award will be made within 120 days. The long delay is due largely to time needed to complete negotiations for acquisition of the storage tank site, as well as completion of the paperwork required by the state.
Cost of the project is still estimated at $6.1 million, Short said, but when the bids are reviewed they may find that construction costs less than expected, which is another reason CDPH asked for a long lead time between bid opening and award.
"We are right at what we can afford at our existing rate structure," Short added.
Auditor Keith Borges from the firm of Anderson, Lucas, Somerville and Borges in Fortuna presented a detailed audit report for fiscal year 2010-11. The district passed all audit tests for that year, and Borges is working on the audit for fiscal year 2011-12, which ended June 30.
Two Seats Open
Last Tuesday’s meeting was the first not attended by former director Peter Connolly, who resigned for health reasons effective July 31.
Chairperson Herb Schwartz also resigned effective last Friday, Aug. 31 to spend more time with his family and as part of an overall retirement plan that includes giving up his law practice and withdrawing, at least for a while, from many community activities.
Schwartz was appointed to the GSD board in March, 2004 and was elected chair the following year, an office he has held since then.
The remaining board members chose Dennis Bourassa, previously vice-chair, as the new chairperson and Rio Anderson as vice-chair, with Bill Stewart remaining as treasurer.
This leaves only a bare quorum of three members on the board. Anyone interested in applying for one of the vacant seats should call the GSD office at 923-9566 during business hours Mondays through Thursdays.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY SUSAN GARDNER
While water trucks were hauling water from Redway and filling the tank above town last week, water was running down Melville Road in Garberville from an unknown source underground. GSD employees have been trying to find out where this leak and the one around the corner on Locust Street is coming from.