As GDPUD has moved forward with plans to retrofit the Auburn Lake Trails (ALT) water treatment plant, questions and charges have arisen regarding why earlier plans to build a new water treatment plant at Greenwood Lake (GL) were later abandoned.
That decision, according to the different agencies involved, traces its history back to 2004. At the time the district’s two water treatment plants at Walton Lake and Auburn Lake Trails were deficient in meeting new Environmental Protection Agency standards for small water systems.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH), which acts as the enforcement arm of the EPA, noted that GDPUD had “an existing surface water treatment plant, but it was inadequate to fully meet all treatment requirements. Because of inadequate inline filtration, CDPH issued a compliance order to the district around 2004 directing the district to modify, upgrade, or replace the district’s two water treatment plants to achieve compliance.”
Acting on that order, GDPUD decided to first tackle the water treatment plant at Walton Lake. That retrofit went easily and was estimated to cost between $1 million to $1.5 million according to GDPUD board member Norm Krizl.
“It then became time to do ALT,” said Krizl. “But the state apparently said you can’t take the same approach, you have to do something more.”
Hank White, general manager of GDPUD, agreed, noting that the retrofit at Walton Lake wouldn’t work at ALT because the regulations as well as the interpretation of the regulations had changed by the time they were ready to fix the second plant.
White said, in fact, that during much of the time the district was grappling with what to do with its plants, a number of EPA rules were being rewritten.
Facing a choice between a retrofit of ALT or building a new facility at Greenwood Lake, the GDPUD board decided to go with the latter after looking at all its options.
White said Greenwood was selected because it was the ideal setting for a new plant. “There is a raw water lake there currently and a ditch from the lake to the western service area. Its elevation is ideal because it would allow gravity flow rather than having to pump water. The district owns 76 acres there, so there was ample room for the facility. There was less room at the site of ALT. And at the time we started the project … (we thought it would only cost) $5 million to build.”
Mounting problems at Greenwood Lake
Once the decision was made to proceed with a new water treatment plant at Greenwood Lake, work began on the studies and plans for the project as well as money to fund it.
Initial plans at Greenwood Lake called for a treated water storage clearwell tank, a treatment plant, standby power building, backwash water supply pump station, raw water pump station, two backwash recovery ponds, a 20,000-gallon holding tank, a leach field, and a treated water pipeline approximately three miles in length connecting the proposed treatment plant to the existing GDPUD treated water distribution system. Once completed, it was expected to operate at 3 million gallons per day, a capacity increase over the 2.3 million gallons a day processed at ALT.
To help pay for the initial plans and studies, in 2006 GDPUD received a special appropriations grant of $1.4 million from the federal government to offset 55 percent of those costs.
According to Audrey Shileikis, who is the Region 9 EPA project officer for the GDPUD grant, about $300,000 of the money was used for initial environmental review and design studies associated with Greenwood Lake. She said the USDA funded some of the work. GDPUD also picked up its share of the cost, contributing approximately $300,000.
In addition, the district received approval for a $9.3 million loan from the State Revolving Fund to construct the plant.
CDPH said, ”initially, the district and its consultants thought a new water treatment plant and related facilities (transmission lines, etc.) could be built for about $6 million.” However as studies and plans proceeded up until 2009, different roadblocks emerged. According to the CDPH, “there were right-of-way, environmental, waste disposal, disinfection-by-product concerns and issues that kept driving the cost of the project higher.”
White noted some of the specific environmental issues included protecting heritage oaks and potentially endangered species. The latter meant work slowdowns and the possibility that a biologist would have to be on site during construction at an additional cost to the project. Paying for easement rights was another issue since none of the property owners along the preferred route for the pipeline wanted to give away those rights for free.
Disposal of waste water coming off the plant constituted another factor. Krizl noted that, “the state said we needed to build huge tanks or huge pumps for settling and I’m sure there were other issues as well and it started mushrooming into a bigger and bigger and bigger project.
Eventually the price tag started pushing $20 million so that’s when the district and the CDPH took a hard look at it,” he said. ”They expressed concern about our ability to pay for something like that. It would have been a significant surcharge to add on to people’s bill, so Hank started talking to the board about something more affordable and discussed retrofitting ALT.”
White said the estimated surcharge would have been $25 on people’s monthly water bill for the capital investment alone. Once the board learned that, he said they decided the district couldn’t afford it and they told White to come back with a different plan — one that would only tack on one more dollar to people’s water bill.
The CDPH affirmed all this, adding, “at one time before this concept was abandoned, it was believed that overall project costs would be about three times the original estimate, or around $18 million. So, the project changed to building a new water treatment plant at a site adjacent to the existing Auburn Lake Trails water treatment plant and the concept of a water treatment plant at the Greenwood Lake site was abandoned. This decision was made by the Georgetown Divide PUD.”
However, White said that CDPH’s statement is not entirely correct, because if the district doesn’t comply with the state’s standards, it can’t get a permit from the state to operate a plant. So the state’s buy-in is a necessity for a project of this kind.
With all the problems facing the Greenwood Lake, in March of 2009 the district received notification from the CDPH that the offer of the $9.3 million loan from the state revolving fund was withdrawn. The state said it was due to the district failing to meet the requirements of the fund and because it was informed that “GDPUD is unable to increase its user water rates sufficient to provide adequate revenue for repayment of the proposed ….loan.”
On to Auburn Lake Trails
With Greenwood Lake officially abandoned in 2009, the district moved to explore a retrofit of the Auburn Lake Trails Water Treatment Plant in order to meet the state’s compliance order. In the process, four different engineering firms did feasibility studies or pilot projects at ALT, including Siemens Water Technologies, Peterson Brustad Inc., Carlton Engineering, and Psomas Engineering.
White said all four firms recommended a contact clarification-filtration process as the preferred water treatment process for ALT after everything was factored into the decision.
“It interests me now to hear people say, ‘We need to go back and do what we did at Walton Lake’,” said White. “But in terms of life cycle costs, reliability, and the recommendations of the four different groups of professional engineers, I believe the water treatment process they are proposing is the preferred one.”
Krizl agreed, saying that it was during discussions between the state and staff when it was decided that the district couldn’t do the same kind of retrofit of ALT that had been done at Walton.
That change was finally approved and Shileikis said the balance of the initial grant, or around $1.1 million, can be used for design and engineering studies associated with the ALT retrofit.
As an aside, during the November elections, some candidates running for the board referred to the 2009 audit that reported the district’s total net assets decreased that year by $1,2 million. What those candidates didn’t mention was that a majority of the decrease, or $1.1 million was due to the abandonment of the Greenwood Reservoir Water Treatment Plant and the loss of the federal grant associated with the project. As noted above, the balance of that grant, which is $1.1 million, has since been re-authorized for use in plans and designs for the ALT plant.
White said he now expects the current cost of the retrofit of ALT to be around $8.4 million, but the final number won’t be known until the contractors submit their bids. In addition there could be change orders. He said the treatment option they propose is called an upflow adsorption clarifier system with a mixed media filter and should meet all state standards.
At present the district has moved ahead on a number of fronts to start work on the planned retrofit of ALT including holding a Proposition 218 process that allows them to assess a fee to fund the project; prequalifying a list of contractors for the project; soliciting and receiving several grants from agencies to help with project costs; authorizing final plans for the plant to be completed by the end of this month; and receiving approval for a loan from the USDA to finance plant construction.
In the meantime, some board members appear to want to revisit the issue.
“It’s too bad we couldn’t use Greenwood Lake,” said White. “It’s a big enough area to build what we needed to build. But there aren’t enough ratepayers to pay for the $20 million cost. But I believe some day Greenwood Lake will be built because it allows the district to provide a central plant to service customers.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.