SITKA TRADITION – Ricky Jarvill, Blatchley Pool manager, and Emma Edson of Alaska Marine Safety Education Association help third-grade students walk out of the water at the Crescent Harbor boat ramp Thursday. The entire third grade learned about cold water survival in the program coordinated by Jarvill and AMSEA. The Sitka School District has been sponsoring the program long enough, more than 30 years, that some parents on Thursday recalled their own third-grade survival experiences. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Assembly Dilemma: Bulk Water Access

By Sentinel Staff

    At a special meeting Tuesday night the Assembly discussed the problem of making Blue Lake water available for export, and also a request for increasing the Blue Lake water allocation to Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association for its new hatchery.

More than $1.5 million in modifications to the Blue Lake penstock, valves and piping would be needed to deliver water in bulk to ships in the bay or to the NSRAA facilities at Gary Paxton Industrial Park, the Assembly was told.

Another problem, a consulting engineer said at the meeting, is that the penstock, which also supplies the city’s drinking water, would have to be shut down for at least two weeks for either of those projects, and the city has no backup water source. The penstock is the mile-long tunnel whose primary purpose is to carry water from Blue Lake to the Sawmill Creek hydroelectric plant. Also city gets its drinking water from a connection to the penstock.

City Administrator Keith Brady introduced Paul Carson, from Currents Consulting Water and Power Services, who gave an overview of the 2018 studies on how to move forward with bulk water projects.

The consulting engineers said that opening the butterfly valves to operate the bulk water system that dates from the 1950s would be risky because the valves are inadequate to regulate the high pressure flow, and once they’re opened it might not be possible to close them. Also, they said, a section of 50-year-old steel pipeline in the system might be unsafe because of rust.

They said one option to solve the bulk water delivery problem was to add a regulating valve and piping changes, for a cost of roughly $1.86 million. Another option would be building a new bulk water control valve and pipeline connected to the new section of Blue Lake penstock, costing about $1.58 million. While either of the options would provide a flow adequate to deliver water to a ship in the bay and also meet the expanded needs of the hatchery, both would require a penstock shutdown, leaving the city without a source of drinking water for that period.

Gary Paxton Industrial Park manager Garry White said he was assured by city officials in both 2015 and 2016 that bulk water sales “were a go.” He said he currently has two purchase contracts, one with a South African company and another with a vodka company, but is unable to deliver the water because of the problems that have been identified in the bulk water delivery system. He said a number of other potential water buyers have lost interest because he can’t give them a timeline for delivery.

White suggested a private/public relationship with one of the potential customers would also be a way to move forward, with the customer fronting the cost of the pipe and valve improvements.

Assembly member Richard Wein was concerned that when the city tested the bulk water valves in 2014 they were OK, now they are not. Carson pointed out that in 2014 the valves were operated at a lower pressure than the increased pressure created since then, when the dam height was raised by 83 feet.

Assembly member Kevin Mosher wondered whether there was any way to supply the city with drinking water when the penstock was shut down for valve replacement. Brady said any shutdown would be for five to ten days and the city has only eight to ten hours of reserve water in its tanks.

Assembly members talked about possibly taking action against the dam project designers for not providing a backup domestic water system, and about possibly switching the city to the old Indian River intake as a backup water source. City engineers have already rejected that as an option because it would require a city-wide boiled water notice. The old Indian River filtration plant is no longer operational, and also it would not be in compliance with current water standards, they reported.

Assembly members talked about possible recourse from the dam designers for leaving the city without a backup water supply system, and Paxton observed that there isn’t a way to do any of the projects until the City secures the necessary secondary water source.

In an October 2018 report on a backup water supply system, the city department of public works recommended taking water from Sawmill Creek above the power plant and building a filtration plant that not only would serve the city when the penstock was down, but also when turbidity of Blue Lake water exceeded allowable levels. This would also allow the city to keep its filter avoidance waiver for drinking water, but the estimated cost is $18 million.

 After reaching no conclusion on the bulk water issue Tuesday, the Assembly turned to the NSRAA request.

They passed a motion to maintain the wording in the current agreement that the City shall “have the right to determine which method or water line is used to deliver raw water to Gary Paxton Industrial Park (GPIP).”

A motion to ensure that the metered cost of pumping shall be charged to NSRAA passed 5-2 with Kevin Mosher and Valorie Nelson voting against, and also a motion that all the items in the water delivery agreement with NSRAA that can be assigned a cost “be assigned a value within a reasonable frame and be returned to the Assembly.”

A motion to accept as written a section stating NSRAA shall use the after-bay as the primary system and penstock as the secondary system (to be completed by December 2021), passed 4-3 with Mosher, Nelson, and Paxton voting against.

However, NSRAA says it needs to have its 20 cfs of fresh water supplied from the penstock and not from the hydro plant after-bay, where it is presently accessible, because ocean water flows into the after-bay with changing tides. Any salt water contamination would be unacceptable for  NSRAA because it would kill the salmon fry that must be raised in fresh water in their early stages of development.

 

 

 

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