JUNE 3, 2010

City Administrator, Rick Laam, has been serving Orofino in that capacity for 23 years.

Orofino water plant, proposed solution

By Alannah Allbrett

   Last week (May 27), The Clearwater Tribune presented a report on the city’s 57 year old water treatment plant, its history, the current operating challenges working with outdated equipment and irreplaceable parts, the upkeep costs, and the loss of city resources through lost water. Over 12 million gallons of water this year were unaccounted for due to leakage; it has been as high as 38 million gallons in the past.

   The job of “making water” to satisfy present and future demands of the city is challenging with yester-year’s equipment and today’s  regulations. Providing safe water is a complex process under the best of circumstances, and with dilapidated water plant, meeting the output needs has become more difficult day-by-day.

   If there were an immediate failure to the present facility, a mobile water plant would have to be rented at a cost of $50,000 to $75,000 per month. It is apparent that the plant cannot be sustained indefinitely in its present condition.

   City officials have been looking ahead to the community’s future needs, as well as the present, knowing that the estimated life cycle of a water plant is 20 to 25 years at best.

Good news

   The good news is, while the tired, old, work-horse of a plant has been pushed beyond its limits, monies have been set aside and invested – knowing that the day would come when a new plant would need to be constructed.

   Orofino residents have been paying two bonds in their current monthly water bills: one bond amount of $17 and the second for $16. In September 2013, water bond number one for $17 will be paid off. By the time the first bond is paid off in September 2013, the new water treatment plant and other improvements should be completed. The $17 will continue to be paid and added to the second bond of $16. When combined, both bonds will be enough to repay the loan from IDEQ. The city will begin repaying the loan six months after all construction is complete.  Orofino will be in a position, 30 years from now, to replace the new (proposed) plant when it wears out, because of money being set aside from residents’ current water bill.

   Years ago, future water needs were anticipated and rates were gradually increased. The first year (of increases) residents’ water bills were raised $4. Year two it was increased by another $4. It was raised by that amount every year for five years (and stopped at that amount), which makes up the $16 amount mentioned above.

   In 1996, voters approved a $2.8 million dollar water bond. Out of that, $1.5 million dollars of bonds were sold. The city received the money in cash and a grant in the amount of $500,000. Those monies were used to make system improvements, such as the construction of the new 500,000 gallon Adams Reservoir and the replacement of the Michigan Avenue water line.

New plant

   The current water plant is a conventional plant relying on settling, filtration, and chemicals to produce clean water. With today’s technology, water production can be doubled in a smaller space by using membrane filtration technology. Water is forced more efficiently and quickly through pressurized membrane tubes.

Water rights

   The Idaho Department of Water Resources has set Orofino’s water rights at 2.2 mgd (million gallons per day). With the old plant, the most water that can be produced is 1.2 mgd, which is not enough to meet current or future demand. The new membrane technology will maximize the city’s water rights where a conventional plant cannot. The membrane system will use two banks of the membrane filters, held within tubes – in units of about 24 tubes per bank. A third row of membranes can go online in the future to increase the capacity by another third.

   The city is not eligible to increase water rights until it proves the capability of producing what is needed. Orofino will stand a better chance of getting increased water rights in the future by increased water production capabilities.

Zero percent interest loan

   City Administrator, Rick Laam, has been serving Orofino in that capacity for 23 years. He knows the history of the water plant, current needs, and future projections. Laam said, “The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) is providing an interest-free loan for thirty years, driving the City’s ability to replace its outdated water treatment plant, provide construction of additional system and reservoir improvements, and to keep water rates as low as possible.” “With that in mind,” he went on to say, “on June 8, 2010, Orofino Mayor Ryan Smathers and the City Council will consider passing Ordinance #766 authorizing an August 3, 2010, Water Revenue Bond Election in the amount of $8,500,000. Without the passage of this Bond, the loan from IDEQ cannot be made.”

The cost breakdown

   In April of this year, IDEQ notified the City that our funding application to replace the aging treatment plant had been approved. The award is divided into two parts: 1. a $6,638,368 interest-free loan; and 2. a grant that forgives a portion of the principal in the amount of $1,852,007.

   There will be, however, a slight adjustment in the Base Rate and the Usage Fee. The current base rate is $11.25 per month. The new base rate will increase by $3.25 to $14.50 per month. The current usage fee is $1.05 per 1,000 gallons of water. The new usage fee will increase by .20 to $1.25 per 1,000 gallons.

Other funding

   The city will be applying for a $500,000 ICDBG - Idaho Community Development Block Grant. The city will also contribute cash in the amount $281,875 toward the project.

Water system improvements

   The four components to the proposed water system improvements are: 1. a new water treatment plant $7,193,750; 2. a new raw water pump station $743,750; 3. construction of a new water intake system $552,875; and 4. a Wixson Heights water reservoir and transmission line at $781,825. The total project costs: $9,272,250,


   The city was unable to acquire the property adjacent to the current water plant, owned by the railroad. However, the city already owns property at 635 Main Street (where the White Pine Building now stands). New technology would enable the city to double current water production on less square footage. The current water plant would remain in operation while a new plant is constructed. Laam said he has been asked often why the city doesn’t construct a new treatment plant on Highway 12 where the city also owns property. He said the cost to construct on Highway 12 would increase the costs of the project by $2-3 million dollars. “Anything outside our interest- free loan would have a direct impact on water rates and would add about $20.00 more per month to the water bill. This was unacceptable by the Mayor and City Council,” said Laam.

Cost without interest-free loan

   Without the interest-free loan from IDEQ, how much would water rates increase? “At a simple interest rate of 3%,” said Laam, “over the same thirty year period of the IDEQ loan, the city would need to increase water rates by at least $45 per month.  This means a household who uses 6000 gallons of water per month would pay the current base of $44.25 plus an additional $45, plus the $3.25 base and usage fee of $1.25 that the city needs to pass on for a total of $93.75.”

What if the bond fails?

   As Rick Laam said, “It’s hard to imagine that anyone would vote against an interest-free loan. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We need to support this proposition not only for today’s citizens, but also for future generations.”

   Additional public educational materials and meetings are now being planned.