GSD board ponders emergency bulk water sales; will replace leaking Alderpoint Road tank

Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

The Garberville Sanitary District board of directors grappled with the question of whether GSD can provide emergency bulk water to users outside its service area, among other items at its regular meeting last Tuesday, Jan. 22.

GSD recently faced an order from the State Water Resources Control Board Division of Water Rights (DWR) to cease and desist providing water for use outside the "place of use" established by GSD's license and permit. This means the district is unable to sell water to water haulers who re-sell it to customers outside the district's current service boundaries.

The question on the table last week was whether to accept DWR terms that would allow GSD to make exceptions in emergencies.

After a phone conference with DWR officials last week, business manager Tina Stillwell outlined the requirements in a memo to the board.

First, GSD must keep detailed records of each transaction. GSD must also confirm that the emergency applicant does not have an alternative water supply, that the quantity of water requested is reasonable for the emergency needs (restricted to domestic water for personal and livestock use only, not for gardens or irrigation of any kind), and that the applicant has a plan for correcting the emergency need for water.

The applicant must sign, under penalty of perjury, a statement that the water will be used for emergency domestic use only. In turn, GSD staff must sign, under penalty of perjury, a statement that the district has determined that this is the case. The water hauler would also have to sign a similar statement affirming that the approved amount of water was delivered to the applicant at the address on the application.

Stillwell advised that compliance would mean installing a meter on the hydrant at the wastewater treatment plant so that records of use can be kept, as well as staff time for processing applications, keeping records, and making appointments with applicants. Increased costs would mean the cost of bulk water would increase.

But she was even more concerned about the "penalty of perjury" statement, which would make GSD responsible to the state for the accuracy and honesty of the applicant's statement.

"How do we confirm they have no emergency water supply? To what extent? Do we have to determine they can't drill a well?" Stillwell asked. DWR officials were unable to give her specific replies.

But board members wanted the district to be able to supply water in an emergency. "Our duty is to serve the people," said Bill Stewart, adding, ".... We know full well [DWR] made this up based on the complaint they received" from a member of the public last fall.

He suggested that staff follow DWR's recommendations and then come to the board if they feel uncomfortable. Stillwell said she already felt uncomfortable signing a statement under penalty of perjury "to the satisfaction of DWR," as stated in the agency's letter, when DWR could not provide clear guidelines.

Operations manager Ron Copenhafer agreed. To a suggestion that GSD field staff could inspect the applicant's property before approving the application, Copenhafer said that while he might or might not have staff available at a particular time, neither he nor his staff have the skills to determine that no alternative water source is available "to DWR's satisfaction."

The board finally agreed to ask staff to design an application form for the board to consider at the next meeting.

During the past month GSD received an anonymous complaint that the Alderpoint Road storage tank was leaking. Copenhafer, who inspected the leak, estimated that the tank is losing water at about six gallons per minute, but he cautioned that he was using the "measuring cup and stop watch" method.

Regardless of the accuracy of the figure, it is clearly a serious leak, and not unexpected, Copenhafer continued. Divers entered the 200,000-gallon redwood tank in 2008 to attempt to patch up leaks and "accomplished virtually nothing," he reported.

Asked about the potential for catastrophic failure, Copenhafer said that while redwood can take a lot of soaking, if the beams the tank is standing on should fail, the tank would collapse.

GSD's consulting engineers, SHN Engineering, have determined that it's feasible to move out the old tank and replace it with a new 200,000-gallon steel tank, said capital projects manager Jennie Short.

She has already contracted with a second firm, LACO Engineering, to prepare the necessary environmental documents for the project, which should be ready to circulate for comment by mid-March. If all goes well, the project should be "approvable" by May, and construction could begin this fall.

Total cost would be about $500,000. Short said she is looking for grant money but the need may not be "critical enough" to make the cut for state funding agencies, so GSD may have to borrow money to pay for tank replacement.

Board and staff have been aware for some time that the Alderpoint Road tank needs to be replaced, and this project was already on the list of capital improvements to be tackled after the drinking water treatment plant improvement project.

After discussion the board agreed not to change their sphere of influence request to the Humboldt Local Agency Commission.

The proposed sphere of influence - the area outside current district boundaries where GSD expects growth and new service to occur in the next 10 years - encompasses several areas GSD currently serves beyond its annexed boundaries, including the Caltrans yard, Renner Petroleum, other businesses on the northwest side of town, the Kimtu subdivision, some properties near the Meadows Subdivison, and on the southwest and southeast of town.

In order to add these areas without increasing the total size of the SOI, which could trigger environmental review, GSD removed some large parcels southeast of the airport and east of the Connick Creek subdivision that are unlikely to see further development.

Short attended a meeting of the Humboldt County Farm Bureau, who wanted GSD to remove areas with prime agricultural soil in both the Community Park and subdivisions on the east side of the river. The Farm Bureau Land Use committee recommended an SOI that is "coterminous" (identical) to its current service area to protect the ag soils. The GSD board, however, decided against this option.

GSD can only request a particular SOI; LAFCo makes the decision, Short told the board.

SHN Engineering has submitted 95 percent complete drawings for the redesigned drinking water treatment project to the funding agency, California Department of Public Health, Short reported.

The project was redesigned to cut costs after all the bids GSD received exceeded the engineer's original estimate and the district's ability to fund.

Short said she is optimistic that the technical and environmental documents will be approved this week. This leaves the most lengthy and laborious part of the process - CDPH's "high level analysis" of GSD's capacity to pay back the loan portion of the grant/loan package.

Once the analysis is complete and GSD's financial capacity is affirmed, the project moves to CDPH's legal department for drafting of the agreement.

Even when that's done it takes additional time for CDPH staff to make reimbursement arrangements. Short cautioned the board against going to bid before the reimbursement step because once the bid is awarded GSD has 90 days to start construction, which means incurring expenses that must be reimbursed.

In other business, the GSD board accepted transfer of an easement on the Mitchell Ranch property as part of the process of taking ownership of the new Kimtu waterline.

The board also approved the 2011 fiscal year audit, which "showed everything is A-OK," as board chair Dennis Bourassa phrased it.

Finally, board members approved a resolution calling for an election for the two vacant seats to be added to the June ballot.

GSD's next board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. at the district office on the south end of Garberville. The agenda and board packets will be posted on GSD's website,, three days before the meeting.