Water Authority Seeks Pump Upgrade

Several Projects Planned for Bond Issue

Posted: March 1, 2013 at 3:01 a.m.

— Pulling 40 million gallons of water out of Beaver Lake each day isn’t important if the pumps can only push 24 million gallons down the pipeline to Northwest Arkansas faucets.

That’s why the Benton-Washington Regional Public Water Authority wants to spend $1.1 million adding pumps to the front end of their distribution system.

“Looking at the long-range forecast, we could be in for another messy summer,” said Scott Borman, operations manager for the authority. “We ran the pumps at maximum capacity several times last summer.”

At A Glance

Water Providers

Most water users in Northwest Arkansas get their water either from the Benton-Washington Regional Public Water Authority or the Beaver Water District. Those entities operate the intakes and transmission lines and sell water to city and rural water providers, which distribute it to individual customers via smaller service lines.

Source: Staff Report

Two more 8-million-gallon pumps theoretically evens out the pumping power and the capacity of the intake, but the system runs on the assumption one pump is always down for some reason, Borman said.

“Even adding just another 8 million gallons gives us a lot of breathing room,” he said.

One pump failed in September after lightning struck its building, destroying the electrical panel supplying power to the pump, Borman said. That pump has already been repaired.

The additional pumps are part of a capital improvement project the authority hopes to undertake this year. Also on the list are an estimated $2.8 million in repairs to two water tanks.

The project will be paid for by a bond issue, which could happen as soon as late April, said Bob Wright of Crews and Associates.

The new bonds will combine new money for the tank and pump projects with a refinancing of existing bonds and will only cost the authority about $65,000 more a year in payments, Wright said.

The exact costs will depend both on interest rates when the bonds are sold and the price for the tank repairs.

“We estimated the $2.8 million, but that’s a worst-case scenario. It could come in even a million below that,” Borman said.

Final numbers can be adjusted once the tank-repair bids are opened and before the bonds are offered so the authority doesn’t borrow more than it has to, Wright said.

The bonds are backed by a reserve fund created last year from an increase in connection fees.

The authority decided against including a $4.6 million upgrade in the upcoming bond issue. The proposed “Wildcat Connection” would install a new line serving Prairie Grove and the Washington Water Authority at the south end of the system. All water for those two systems, as well as for municipal systems in Lincoln and Westville, run through a single conduit, and the pumps that lift that water uphill in western Washington County run 24-7 during the summer months.

The cutoff would reduce the load on that pump and provide an 18-inch line connecting to two of the fastest-growing water providers on the system, said Josh Moore, chairman of the Washington Water Authority.

“We’re going to add 600 new customers this year, and we could use all the capacity we can get,” he said.

Capacity could also change depending on the actions of the Prairie Grove City Council, said Larry Oelrich, an authority board member and the public utilities manager in Prairie Grove.

The city has an alternative source of water, pulling from Prairie Grove Lake through a city-owned treatment plant. That plant is scheduled to be shut down in 2014 or 2015, but city leaders are looking at the possibility of renovating the plant to give it at least another 15-year life span.

“When the system load gets really high, we can pull Prairie Grove off the (authority) line and use our own plant, which frees up capacity elsewhere,” Oelrich said. “It’s also a good backup if anything should ever disrupt the main service, and the city is discussing whether they want to keep that backup system in place.”