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Exeter introduces water plan, set to discuss rate increases

Exeter introduces water plan, set to discuss rate increases

City reveals their water master plan outlining deficiencies and needs in their water and sewer system, plans on the books to discuss water and sewer rate increases

By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

EXETER – Over a year in the making and $152,740 later, the City finally has a completed water master plan. This is their newest plan since 2008, and was commissioned to identify a slew of water system inefficiencies and subsequent solutions. 

At their Aug. 13 meeting, the Exeter City Council were forced to recognize the main problems their new master plan pointed out. Presented by public works director Daymon Qualls, the plan determined that the City’s existing system does not meet California Waterworks Standards for maximum daily demand, peak hour demand or maximum day plus fire flow. 

Qualls noted during the meeting that they need 1,100 additional gallons per minute to meet maximum daily demand, upsize their various water mains and add 500,000 gallons of additional water storage. Most of the problems were not news to the City – or the residents for that matter. Exeter has experienced poor peak demand over the last two summers, leaving residents with little water pressure. The worst of it came in 2018 when the City’s well at Park Place was offline leading into the hotter months. 

City staff provided the Council with some ways to approach the problem, but they are trying to avoid adding anymore debt to the Exeter balance sheets. Qualls pointed out that $11 of residents’ water bills per month goes directly to debt service for capital improvement projects. 

“We can’t take on more debt service. We can’t…staff feels there are some opportunities within the existing system that will not only increase production at some of our wells but also long term sustainability to make our system last longer,” Qualls said.

Of the City’s eight wells, six are active and providing a total capacity of 3,325 gallons per minute if all of them run at the same time. The greatest producer is the Park Place well at 1,132 GPM. The City hopes to rehabilitate the two wells that are currently offline to add more water to the system. They have already been successful in the past when consultant Phil Mirwald helped solve a contamination problem with the well at Brick House Park, adding a valuable 611 gallons per minute to the system. 

Making the margins for error even more explicit is the average water demand per capita per day. The average Exeter resident uses 140 gallons per day, and there are 11,094 residents in town. The amount is a testament to resident discipline considering that Farmerville, Woodlake, Hanford, Delano, Chowchilla and Tulare all use more gallons in a day. Delano, Chowchilla and Tulare made up the biggest difference using 279, 280 and 300 gallons per day respectively. With margins so thin, Exeter will need to find more water somewhere.

Exeter could also get more out of their wells. Qualls noted that the City’s pumps run at 75 horse power. A potential solution in the future could be to upgrade their pumps to 100 horse power pumps. Adding storage is an easy solution, and not a new one. The City was mainly waiting to see how much water they needed to store in addition to their iconic 100,000-gallon water tower that was built in 1911. 

In addition, staff suggested more proactive regular maintenance programs. These programs would address immediate, long-term and on-going maintenance needs. The City finished up one such program last week when they exercised existing valves around the city. It had been a thorn in the water system’s side that the entire “loop” system had to be shut down in order make major repairs.

“We found some valves that were in the closed position that we were completely unaware of…we are hoping we can help in some of our water pressure issues,” Qualls said.

Again, not unknown to City staff or residents is Exeter’s aging water infrastructure. In all the City has 47 miles of distribution pipelines, 325 fire hydrants, about 900 water valves and 3,832 residential/commercial water service connections with meters. Qualls pointed out that some pipes are 70 years old or more and made with products that are not even made anymore. To do an entire replacement of the water system would be approximately $65 million.

Because the City is unwilling to go into anymore debt the Council and staff will have to consider raising water rates. 

“We have to get in the mode of regular maintenance. Unfortunately, current and past rates were not enough to fund regular maintenance…there aren’t enough funds and rates don’t support that kind of maintenance,” Qualls said.

Although, there are some bright spots for the Exeter water system. They are losing less water than ever before. In a production versus metered test that identified water loss, the City is losing just 6% of the water they pump from the ground. It is a big improvement over the 18% they were losing in 2014. Qualls said the improvement is do to water line replacement projects and additional metering on public property. 

On the sewer side of things, it is a different system but practically the same story. The City currently has 36 miles of collection pipe ranging from four inches to 36 inches in diameter. Exeter has let some aspects of their outdated sewer system go on. Public works gets calls often over the lift station on Industrial Drive, and as Qualls put it, it is in desperate need of repair. 

There is not much of a problem when it comes to the City’s treatment plant, albeit built in the 1950s. It has a 2 million gallons per day capacity and is currently used at 800,000 gallons per day. 

City manager Adam Ennis said the last known master plan over the sewer system was done in 1974. And part of improving the sewer system would be to update the master plan every three to five years. But the biggest improvements, beside the Industrial Drive lift station is upgrading regular maintenance to take care of immediate, long term and ongoing needs. But like the water system, rates have not matched the cost of production and maintenance. To do a total replacement of the system would cost $60 million. 

“When I started running the numbers and looking at this I was overwhelmed. That’s a lot of money,” Qualls said.

While procedurally the Council was asked to accept the master plan, discussion over consolidation with Tooleville stalled passage. Instead the Council opted to wait two weeks until their next meeting on Aug. 27. Supposedly that meeting will include the master plans passage in addition to covering costs and revenue over the water and sewer system. They will then discuss in detail the Tooleville consolidation project on Sept. 10 and a rate analysis on Sept. 24. 

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