Water District deals with delays in projects and permits

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Kevin Brown, district manager of the Virgin Valley Water District, had some bad news for the board at its July 18 meeting. As outlined in his update to the public, (Tearing Up the Town, Part Deux, MLN, July 6), the district has several ongoing construction project delays, unanticipated line breaks and other circumstances that are causing added expense and disruption.

Brown and district hydrologist Aaron Bunker met with BLM officials in Caliente last week to discuss rights of way access to the VVWD well site 34, located in Lincoln County. VVWD began preparations for that well a decade ago when it completed an environmental assessment (EA) for the site.

VVWD must secure an additional EA for utility lines, service roads and pipelines to connect that well to the VVWD water system. Staff found records indicating a Las Vegas firm was hired to do an EA several years back, but no EA was filed. Well 34 is scheduled for engineering and drilling in FY18. BLM officials indicate that preparation of such an EA by their office could take at least a year.

News of that delay prompted the board to discuss the prudence of moving forward with a proposed contract with Bowen Collins & Associates for Well 34 engineering and drilling project management. A pending contract for that work, priced at $145,000, had been placed on the agenda for board consideration. Todd Olsen of BCA laid out an approximate timeline of 24 months required for engineering, drilling, and completing pipeline connections of that well, if completed under optimal conditions.

Concerned about “placing the cart before the horse” in proceeding with engineering, a motion was made by board member Barb Ellestad to table the engineering contract, pending further staff research into securing the EA. The motion carried 4-0, with board member Richard Bowler on excused absence.

The months-long Virgin River Transmission Line and the Riverside Road pipeline upgrade projects are moving into their late stages. Delayed contractor orders of special cast dyes and vaults slowed the project completion, which was slated for June.

That line provides water service redundancy for a large portion of south Mesquite which has been completely dependent on a single source of water. Building the line has been a priority for VVWD board members since it was revealed that a water main break could leave part of the town without water for an undetermined period of time.

The lingering disruption on Riverside Road is due to a combined project undertaken by VVWD and the City of Mesquite, which is concurrently repaving the roadway. Board member Travis Anderson, also the City of Mesquite engineer, stated that final road paving near the Bunkerville Bridge will cause single-lane traffic reduction Aug. 20-24, which may result in up to 10-minute delays for motorists. Completion of the entire project is set for the end of August.

A June 6 water line break on Summit Court effectively destroyed all of the street’s asphalt. The pipe was replaced and the road is now being replaced, causing noise and disruption for that neighborhood. Due to the proximity of that street work to the bare lot at newly-drilled well 27 on Pioneer Boulevard, the District has temporarily stored old asphalt at the well site. Summit Court repair is slated for completion mid-August.

A lightning strike over the past weekend disabled the pump at Well 2. Hydrologist Aaron Bunker reported that new pump fuses and parts have arrived and will be installed to bring the well back online. There was no loss of water service for district water users during the outage of the well.

This past week Brown learned that the 2,000-gallon per minute flow of well 27A exceeds the capability of the planned outfitting of the well. It was expected that the flow would equal the prior well 27 production of 1420 gpm, since the wells are only several hundred yards apart. The good news of more water was tempered by the bad news of need for larger, more costly pump equipment to handle the additional flow. The district had budgeted $800,000 for the project, but is now facing at least double that cost. Final reviews for the City and NDEP are needed, and bidding for the pump and connection project will be let in late July.

Closing another hangover issue from prior VVWD management, the Board voted to relinquish its interest in a 5-acre parcel of land off Gold Butte Road that it had contracted to purchase in 2008. The District paid $202,000 in earnest money to purchase the parcel which was eventually derailed by a boundary survey.

The parcel was originally valued at $236,000 and was part of a larger land sale negotiated with Virgin River 140 LLC. With boundaries in question, the sale was delayed. The land went into bankruptcy foreclosure, and in 2014 VVWD filed a “Letter of Interest” to salvage its earnest money rights.

Clark County Desert Conservation Program now proposes to buy the total 140-acre parcel for use as riparian habitat. The land is now assessed at $5,000 per acre. The flood of 2010 impacted the land value when it changed the course of the river and now part of the parcel lies in the 100-year flood plain and the current river bed.

If VVWD relinquishes its interest in the land to allow the sale, it will receive approximately $25,357. The board voted unanimously to relinquish the VVWD interest so it could get some of its money back from what Ellestad characterized as a “dubious action by past management.”

In its ongoing analysis of water rates and future system expenses, the board viewed three potential scenarios for fee assessments needed to meet projected expenses through 2040. Board members found none of the three to be entirely satisfactory in meeting its criteria of consistent long-term planning for the district and the rate payers, using gradual rate increases to meet rising costs, and formulating similar rate increases that apply to all income streams.

Ellestad asked staff to construct another scenario to closer reflect those criteria, using figures agreed upon by the board. Smith will present that model at the Sept. 5 board meeting. No rate increases will occur until a public hearing is held and rates are voted upon in open board meeting.

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