Well house and walls are taking shape at Well 27A on Pioneer Blvd.
Trade West machine operator Mel Bundy and Brady Workman lay water pipe in trench on April 3. Replacement Well 27A will be brought on line by VVWD by end of summer. Photo by Linda Faas

Virgin Valley Water District manager Kevin Brown awoke to bad news Tuesday morning, April 3, as his staff reported the complete shutdown of the district’s biggest producing well, Well 31. Trouble with leakage in the well casing was reported Monday evening. The leakage and equipment vibration worsened overnight to the point of failure, halting water flow from the well that yields 2,400 gallons per minute and normally provides water for the south area of town between I-15 and the Virgin River.

Brown and hydrologist Aaron Bunker moved quickly to inform the VVWD board of directors and take action to get the well back on line. By the time of the regular board meeting Tuesday evening, contractor Layne Christiansen had been hired to install a spare pump VVWD has on hand. VVWD expects the well to be back in operation within two weeks. During the outage, other wells in the system will be able to provide water service for the entire community. Repairs are expected to cost approximately $80,000.

The well failure comes as VVWD is putting its tentative budget in place for Fiscal Year 2018-19. That budget contains a line item of $350,000 for rehabilitation of Well 31, which has been online for more than 15 years. The cost of work being done this month will be covered through the emergency reserve fund earmarked for such events.

Ongoing system expansion and repairs are the day-to-day work of the VVWD staff who are tasked to provide all culinary water for Mesquite and Bunkerville. On Tuesday, the VVWD board reviewed the FY2018-19 tentative budget prepared by district finance manager Wes Smith.

The budget, as approved, calls for more than $18.5 million in total expenditures. That tentative budget, balanced by income of $12.1 million operating and non-operating income, and $6.4 million in cash on hand, will be submitted to the state at the end of the month, and goes into effect July 1.

Big ticket expenditures planned in FY2019 total more than $10 million, including drilling of new Well 34, located in Lincoln County near existing wells. A new water tank will be constructed to balance the water system in the Sun City area. Outfitting of Well 1A, south of the Virgin River, is budgeted in FY2018-19, as is the outfitting of Well 27A on Pioneer Boulevard, which is in progress. A full rehab of now-failed Well 31 was anticipated and already budgeted in the coming year.

Ongoing replacement and repair of transmission lines prompts a major equipment purchase of a vacuum truck to be scheduled in the coming year. Director Rich Bowler pondered the budgeted cost of $400,000-plus for that truck, asking Brown to explore all ways to reduce that expense. The board approved purchase of the truck as a safety and efficiency measure.

District operating revenues will top $9 million in the next fiscal year due to additional water users, a voted increase of 1.0 percent in water rates and higher developer fees. Non-operating revenues will add another $3 million to district income. The shortfall of $6.5 million will be covered by cash on hand in several district funds and reserve accounts. VVWD will have $5.3 million in cash reserves at the end of FY2018-19.

The intended excess expenditures are planned to front-load system infrastructure in the next few years, correcting some inherent weaknesses such as the single trans-river water line that served downtown Mesquite before a redundant line was installed in 2017. The board has taken steps to increase revenues through moderate rate and fee increases in coming years and expects to attain a balance of yearly revenues and expenditures by FY2025.

In other business, the board reviewed a draft of job requirements for potentially hiring a staff engineer for the district. A qualified candidate would be offered a starting salary of $75,000 with benefits. Brown also provided an estimate of potential savings to be realized by the district in hiring an in-house engineer. Rich Bowler requested additional years of estimated savings to be provided by the next meeting, indicating his desire to see a clearer picture of the long term value to be accrued from adding that position. Employment costs for an engineer were approved for inclusion in the budget, with actual hiring to occur at a later date.

The board voted 5-0 to approve the tentative budget.