Weott Community Services District received a further month's extension on the declaration of emergency they requested from the county board of supervisors last August to help WCSD cope with damage to a main water line that threatened loss of the town's water supply.
The supervisors voted unanimously last Tuesday, Oct. 8, to extend the declaration of emergency for an additional 28 days, which helps the district as it applies for funding needed to upgrade their old and fragile water system.
WCSD staff and SHN, the district's engineers, hope to begin work on replacement of the severely damaged four inch in diameter raw water line under the South Fork Eel River by Oct. 21, WCSD board member Lou Iglesias told the Redwood Times last week.
This line, which brings raw water from the district's source high on Grasshopper Peak in Humboldt Redwoods State Park under the river to WCSD's treatment plant on the east side of the Avenue of the Giants, sprang a major leak last August.
This near-disaster was the result of a chain of events that began with two "unauthorized withdrawals" of 10,000 gallons each from one of WCSD's two storage tanks in late July.
District staff increased water pressure in the system as they tried to refill the tanks and keep water flowing to Weott residents. The aged, ailing network of pipes sprang leaks in many places, the most potentially catastrophic being the major leak in the raw water line under the river.
While most of Weott's water system needs repairs and upgrades, replacing the raw water line is the most urgent matter.
The old raw water line will be replaced and a new one will be installed by a method called "horizontal directional drilling," which does not require trenches or diversion of the natural flow of the river. The new pipe will be installed in a new under-river crossing close to the existing one. (See related story in our Aug. 28 issue.)
Although this method minimizes environmental impacts, approval of the project entailed getting the support of several state and federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and State Parks, to obtain an exemption to the standard environmental review process.
With the agencies pledging to cooperate, WCSD and their engineers hoped to begin the work as soon as possible after the end of marbled murrelet nesting season on Sept. 15.
But work on the project has been delayed because of difficulty finding a contractor to do the job for the funding available, Iglesias explained. The project will be funded by a $234,000 grant from the California Department of Public Health.
SHN and WCSD now expect work to begin the week following the Redwoods Marathon, an annual event sponsored by the Six Rivers Running Club, which this year will be run on Sunday, Oct. 20.
The project is expected to take two or three weeks. Engineers originally projected that a portion of Avenue of the Giants north of Weott would be open only to one-lane controlled traffic. Iglesias said they are now hopeful that both lanes can be open throughout construction.
WCSD hopes for good weather to complete the project. While rainfall will not stop construction, it will make the work more difficult. Even worse, if the river rises to the level of the existing pipe, it will wash the pipe out, leaving the town without water, as well as releasing extra sediment into the river.
The district hopes to receive state funding to replace other critical infrastructure, including a new water storage tank and possibly an entirely new treatment plant, via the county's Hazard Mitigation Plan, which WCSD joined this year.