John Zarate explains the benefits of a vacuum truck purchase. Photo by Linda Faas

In its first meeting of the 2019 fiscal year, the Virgin Valley Water District board discussed and authorized the job advertising and possible hiring of a full-time district engineer. The position was previously built into the FY2019 budget, calling for a salary of up to $75,000 plus a benefits package of up to $50,000 per year.

A job description for the position was drawn up at the end of FY2018, along with an analysis of cost savings brought about by having an in-house engineer.

The district has contracted out its engineering and project management work in the past. With the increase in building permits and water hookups, along with the need for more coordinated computer-based analysis of district projects and infrastructure, the board voted in favor of hiring an on-staff professional to manage the technical and engineering aspects of the VVWD water system.

The board okayed advertising and interviewing applicants for an engineer position with the intent to hire when a qualified candidate responds. Staff, assisted by two board members, will screen applications to narrow the field of candidates who will then interview with the board.

It was noted that current staff is being stretched to cover the increased activities of the district as Mesquite grows into a midsize city with about 9,000 rate payers.

The board also heard a presentation by district operator John Zarate on the benefits of purchasing a vacuum truck. Zarate explained that since 1997 only one additional operator has been added to the district crew that lays and repairs water pipelines.

He pointed out that in that same time the number of residential hook-ups has tripled and the district suffers much higher rates of pipe failure and line breaks due to the corrosive conditions of the soil and water, high water temperature and mineral content in the district’s well water.

Zarate outlined the efficiencies and safety factors that would be improved with the addition of a large vacuum truck that could quickly pump water from a flooded break area and reduce the destruction and repair costs of asphalt surrounding the break.

The current VVWD equipment is low capacity and outdated technology, causing longer repair time and putting greater burden on the workers who are tasked with repairing frequent breaks.

District manager Kevin Brown noted that the district had experienced 16 lateral breaks in May, 14 in June, and six so far in July. A new hydro excavation vehicle would also ease work in other underground utility digging operations.

Zarate walked the board through the steps taken in evaluating the potential purchase of a new “vac” truck, comparing price, delivery time of the vehicle, service availability, ease of maintenance, simplicity of operation, onboard storage capacity, cleanup ability, water excavating, and de-watering.

Staff prioritized four suitable vehicles that are on the market and obtained four bids. Zarate reported that staff favored purchasing a RAMVAC truck, priced at $410,000. The budget ceiling for an equipment purchase had previously been set at $455,000.

While RAMVAC provided the lowest bid price, it was also favored because of its simplicity of design and potential savings in repair due to its manual operating features rather than using a computer-driven design that could fail or become outdated. The selection team visited Henderson and North Las Vegas to compare various trucks during their evaluation process.

After satisfactorily answering director questions on the long-term benefits of this significant equipment outlay, the board voted 5-0 to approve purchasing the RAMVAC vehicle for $410,000. Zarate noted that one week of on-site training for VVWD workers is included in the cost, and the Phoenix company will provide certain on-site repair assistance.


Bingham updates Board on status of VVWD motion to dismiss Wolf Creek lawsuit


In brief comments made by conference call, VVWD legal counsel Bo Bingham summed up the status of the board’s response to a Wolf Creek Golf Course lawsuit filed May 16, which cites a “perpetuity” clause in its lease and disputes VVWD’s right to raise rates on leased water shares. The golf course has had a running dispute with VVWD concerning future conditions and pricing of VVWD irrigation water shares.

The golf course leases 155 water shares from VVWD for $250 per share under a 2011 lease that is in effect until the end of 2019. Among other issues, Wolf Creek disputes VVWD’s authority to raise its future lease rate to market price of $1,246, which is currently paid to VVWD by Southern Nevada Water Authority (see District replies to golf course lawsuit, MLN, 7/12/2018).

In early July, Bingham filed a motion on behalf of VVWD, asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit. He told the board that the court has not yet responded to VVWD’s motion.

He reiterated the board’s position that VVWD will take whatever action necessary to pursue its case, stating that Wolf Creek’s suit seeks to undermine the authority of elected VVWD officials to set water rates, as provided in its charter from the State of Nevada. VVWD maintains this puts unfair burden on other ratepayers in the district who have shouldered steep rate hikes in the past several years in order to stabilize district finances.