From the Jan. 5, 2011 issue. To read all of the articles and columns in the newspaper, subscribe today. Visit www.mckinleyvillepress.com.
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
As McKinleyville continues to grow, more and more people will need clean drinking water and reliable sewage treatment. The McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD) has plans in place to meet these needs.
Coping with growth
Operations Manager Greg Orsini faces two challenges in his job – keeping up with McKinleyville’s growth and with the state’s ever-changing regulations.
“When the water distribution system and sewer collection system were designed, they were designed to manage a pre-determined density [of population],” said Orsini. “Since then the county has changed those densities, so depending on where those areas [of growth] are, the infrastructure will have to be upgraded.”
Orsini and General Manager Norman Shopay said that the County Planning Department, which is encouraging rapid growth in McKinleyville, is playing by a different set of rules than the MCSD.
“Our criteria is to make sure that we have adequate water and sewer for everybody in McKinleyville,” said Orsini. “Their criteria is to maintain what the state is forcing them to do, in terms of density.”
Shopay emphasized that the costs of upgrading would be borne by the developers, and not by MCSD’s ratepayers.
The MCSD board of directors will examine these developer “capacity fees” later this year, to make sure they match the real costs of upgrading the infrastructure.
More efficient pumps
A new, highly efficient pump system will distribute McKinleyville’s drinking water in 2011. The system is located at the Grant Ramey Pump Station on North bank Road, where the town receives its entire water supply from a pipe that crosses under the Mad River and connects to the Humboldt Bay Munincipal Water District.
“It will be substantially less expensive to pump a gallon of water with the new system than with the old system,” said Orsini. “The motor on the new pumps doesn’t have to run at full speed all the time. If the demand increases, the pump speed increases. You’re pumping to satisfy demand instead of pumping to fill the tanks up as fast as you can, so you use less electricity.”
At certain times of year, PG&E charges more money for electricity used during peak hours. With the new pumps, MCSD can schedule the pumping for off-peak hours, paying a lower rate for electricity.
The new pumps will also double MCSD’s capacity, enabling it to pump 4.2 million gallons of water per day.
More water storage tanks
“We want to add additional water storage tanks at Murray Road,” Shopay said. “We only have 24 hours in reserve water capacity if there’s a break in the pipeline under the river. We would like to have at least three to five days water supply, because if that pipe breaks, it’s not going to get fixed in 24 hours.”
During the coming year, engineers will study the site on Murray Road above the Beau pre Golf Course, and do a preliminary design for the tanks.
Pipeline over the Mad River Bridge
MCSD currently gets all its water from a single pipeline that runs under the Mad River from the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District treatment plant in Essex. As a back-up, MCSD is installing another pipeline over the Mad River Bridge, connecting its water system with the City of Arcata.
Ordinarily, the two systems will remain separate, but if either community should have an emergency and need extra water, each city will provide back-up for the other.
“We’re still exchanging letters with Arcata, asking for their support,” Shopay said. “We will proceed forward on placement of the pipeline in the bridge, even if we don’t have all the details worked out. It’s a one-time opportunity for us, and if we don’t do it, we’ll never get another chance.”
Emergency water wells
“We’re looking at the possibility of putting in emergency water wells that are close to our tank, so that if the pipeline breaks under the river, we have another alternate source of water,” Shopay said.
Fallout from the pulp mill closure
Over the past few decades, a large part of the costs of providing water to the public was picked up by the pulp mills on the Samoa Peninsula. When the last mill closed down, Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District was forced to charge its municipal customers, including MCSD, more money to fill the gap.
Humboldt Bay has advised MCSD that its rates will go up 15 percent this coming year. These rate increases will be passed on to MCSD’s retail customers, such as households and businesses.
Orsini said that MCSD is already doing a good job of removing pollutants from McKinleyville’s wastewater. The wastewater treatment marsh is now 90 percent covered by bulrushes, which filter out contaminants from the treated sewage water before it is released into the river or onto fields for irrigation.
The Regional Water Quality Board monitors the pollutants left in the wastewater, and has found that McKinleyville is well within acceptable limits. As a result, it has loosened its testing requirements, saving the MCSD $12,000 per month.
“We are one of the most compliant municipalities for our size,” Orsini said.
Orsini said that the old permit requirements were not enforceable, because the limits for certain contaminants were so low that labs did not have tests to detect them.
The old discharge standards for copper were so stringent that ordinary tap water would have flunked the test.
“We proved that the amount of copper we are discharging is not toxic to the life in the river,” Orsini said.