Garberville Water News: of Boiling Water, Cannabis Water Use, and More
Water Treatment Plant Incident
The meeting started with an apology letter read with heart by Board President Linda Broderson. The incident leading to this apology is still under investigation.
Operators Dan Arreguin and Brian Miller were in the building when the incident began. According to them, they had just turned off the noisy equipment of the water treatment plant when they heard a series of sounds that made them think the exterior pipes of the treatment were pulling apart and its large bolts were hitting the building. As it was happening, Brian said he wanted out of the building quickly. Dan said he felt safer staying inside away from whatever shrapnel might be flying around.
The noise ceased in short order, and they investigated. The Operators found, on the south side of the building, air boiling out of the ground where the contact chamber is buried. Air was bubbling up through the few inches of standing water “from every crack and crevice in the ground,” explained Brian.
The contact chamber is currently partially unearthed and clearly in shambles from whatever happened. There was no indication that anything was amiss until the explosion. The engineers who looked at it have said that for some reason pressure built up in the chamber. The engineers also said the type of pipe used may not have been suitable for this application. General Manager Emerson has said there is no flow reduction valve on the unit which he thinks may have contributed to the problem.
Just minutes before this happened, the Operators had shut the plant down to do a regular maintenance duty called a “wash out” of the filtered sediment.
Because of the timing, the District knew that no unchlorinated water had entered the system. Soon the Tobin well was turned on to supply water while repairs were made.
Tobin well can only supply a little over half the water the town typically uses in a day during winter. The District keeps their tanks full as a matter of course, so they had about a two and a half day supply of water on hand and in the Tobin well to extend that supply another day or two.
The District worked quickly to repair the water treatment plant to get the river supply back online. The Operators express admiration for Wahlund Construction who moved very quickly to support the district. Wahlund’s equipment was in Crescent City at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, November 24 when the District reached them. Nonetheless, even with a six-hour round trip to Cresent City, the company was on-site in Garberville, with their equipment, by 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
After confirming the contact chamber was the problem, the company went to work building a bypass around the contact chamber. As reported earlier, the contact chamber slows the delivery time of treated water in order to assure the chlorine has time to disinfect the water. Operator Dan Arreguin said he had been running his calculations with the Division of Drinking Water staff and concluded that with the lower demand of winter time, GSD could increase the chlorine level to safely accommodate the shorter delivery time because of the linear pipe distance to town and the lower wintertime flow rate in the pipes.
To bypass the contact chamber, Wahlund Construction disconnected the piping to it and built a “u turn” in the massive plumbing to redirect the water back into the delivery system. The upright pipes shown in the picture are where the water previously was piped into the contact into the chamber and back out again.
When the plant was built, the contact chamber was installed to accommodate potential water needs for the Community Park. All other customers can be served without having a contact chamber. However, in summer, higher water demand will shorten the delivery time. This means using twice the chlorine that has been needed according to Arreguin
When the incident occurred, the Division of Drinking Water insisted on a Boil Water Order being issued. Ralph Emerson says he objected because he felt the water supply remained safe, but the District complied. Emerson says if the water had been unsafe, GSD staff would have taken the time to go door to door and be sure people knew to boil the water.
GSD is developing a plan ensuring communication in the next emergency is smoother. The District uses a software called Jayhawk Utility Suite for their billing. Interim Administrative Assistant Mary Nieto contacted Jayhawk’s developer to ask about companion software for contacting customers in emergencies like this. Nieto learned Jayhawk has had many similar requests and will be releasing a module designed for this within a month or two. The District will begin to use that as soon as it becomes available.
However, General Manager Emerson stressed several times that phone numbers provided to GSD are often not current. Another problem is voice message systems are not operational. Emerson strongly encourages customers who want to be notified when there is a problem with their water to update their contact information.
Agricultural Cannabis Water Use
The Board is working to develop a separate water use policy for cannabis businesses. Ralph Emerson said that “the District does not have an ordinance for providing treated water to a commercial business.”
A business owner from the Bear Canyon industrial area explained to the Board that she needs her “will-serve letter” from the District so she can complete her requirements for the permitting with Humboldt County so she can apply for a CalCannabis license when they become available early next year. The deadline on her county planning form was up in September. Emerson says she represents “other applicants” who have been waiting for the District to make a policy.
While no decisions have been formally made yet, the draft of the Cannabis ordinance says GSD ratepayers who want to have licensed cannabis operations must pay $8,000 for a second water meter, plus its installation costs and its monthly base rate of about $100.00 a month. General Manager Ralph Emerson said that staff with the Water Board that he has spoken to have liked this protocol. The District’s reasoning is that with a second meter running to the yard, the district can cut off services to “the ag meter” in times of drought and mandatory conservation. Emerson also says with the connection fees and the extra base rate fees, the District can afford to produce the water.
Additionally, the draft says that cultivators will need to provide forbearance storage for summertime use.
Board Member Doug Bryan said he and Board Member Rio Anderson, who was absent, are the committee writing the ordinance. Bryan says he now has, in hand, new policy guidelines from the California’s State Water Resources Control Board. Bryan said the guidelines give him much more confidence writing this policy and that the committee will meet and bring back a revised draft of the Cannabis Ordinance to the Board next month.
The Board will not take action for any applicants until the policy is in place.
Matty Tittmann and Jamie Rennie from Greenwired presented a rough draft proposal “to begin a conversation” with the Board to explore replacing half the District’s very sizable energy demand with solar power.
The proposal from Greenwired says to produce half their total energy needs of about 194kw, GSD would need 300 panels that produce 325 watts each. And GSD would need an upgrade to the interconnection to the PG&E grid power.
The estimate Greenwired had prepared for the meeting says that a rough calculation indicates half the District’s power supply can be offset with a project cost of about $350,000, and that there is a 30% tax credit available through the end of 2018 that will bring the project cost to the district down to $245,000. The District pays about $57,000 a year in energy costs.
The board listened and asked about having the project offset their total power bill. According to Greenwired, the main hold up will be the inter-tie to the power grid. It is currently a 200amp connection. To supply half the power needs for the district requires upgrading to 800 amps and to 100% of the power needs requires a 1,600 amp interconnection. And that requires PG&E to schedule and perform the upgrade which seems to be a slow process.
The Board is excited to explore the possibilities, however, Boardmember Doug Bryan voiced reluctance to do anything requiring the District to get into another loan.
In a phone conversation to the California Energy Commission later, Amber Beck explained that the ECAA, Energy Conservation Assistance Act, has a fund for public projects. The fund is equally divided between education and other governmental organizations. Education based entities such as schools, offices of education and community colleges can get grants and interest-free loans. Cities, counties, and special districts must take a loan and pay 1% on those loans.
Amber also explained that a qualifying entity can finance a project that covers up to 100% of their energy needs but there is a cap of $3,000,000. The project must be paid for in offset energy costs within a 20 year period. GSD’s payback period appears to be 12 years.
General Manager’s Report
The General Manager’s Report says, in part, there is a GSD stakeholders group and that they have said to him they don’t want higher rates, and that they want smooth communication from the District.
And Chair Linda Broderson reported from the Rate Study Committee that the committee recommends GSD include 5 units of water, worth $3.50 in the base rate to reduce costs for customers.