California city reforms an aging water system
The water system for Brawley, Calif., needs a few repairs. Responding to a 1993 citation for non-compliance by the California Department of Health Services, the city has raised funds to revamp the 70-year-old system and is undertaking a comprehensive water treatment and delivery overhaul.
Brawley obtains its water from the Colorado River via the All American Canal and downstream canal systems operated by the Imperial (Valley) Irrigation District. The river’s high turbidity and chemical concentrations result in poor water quality, requiring extensive filtration and biological treatment to prevent waterborne diseases.
Equipment deficiencies plague the city’s 16-mgd water treatment plant; leaks in the cast iron distribution lines cause chronic water pressure problems; and undersized water lines discourage new commercial and residential development. The state ordered the city to correct problems with its existing water treatment plant and to replace or repair more than 40 percent of its distribution lines.
In addition to updating the existing plant, Brawley officials have decided to build a new one. Construction on the $24.9 million, 15-mgd treatment facility has begun and is scheduled for completion during the second quarter of 1999. At the same time, within the distribution network, the city is replacing some of the valves and cast iron water lines to reduce maintenance costs and improve water delivery.
In 1996, during the planning phase for the new plant, Berryman & Henigar, San Diego, was hired to review projected operations and maintenance costs. The firm also reviewed Brawley’s water rate structure and operations costs for the existing plant, which the city will continue to use until the new site is complete.
Brawley had not raised water rates since 1984, and the existing water treatment plant could not cover its operating costs. The firm’s analysis revealed that: * a water rate increase would be required to cover operating costs and help fund upgrades at the existing plant; * a rate increase could provide funds for the water line replacements; and * consumption-based rates rather than the current flat rates could provide a more equitable means of allocating water system costs and promote water conservation.
Based upon the firm’s findings, the city increased its water rates more than 11.5 percent last July.
In addition to the increased rates, financing for Brawley’s water system overhaul will come from several sources. The City of Brawley Public Improvement Corp. (in cooperation with North American Development Bank, San Antonio, Texas) has provided $18 million through the sale of certificates of participation; California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) has provided a $5 million loan; and DWR and California’s Economic Development Administration have granted nearly $2 million.
When the new water treatment plant is complete, it will accommodate the demands of Brawley’s 22,000 residents as well as those of neighboring communities Westmoreland, Poe and Luckey Ranch. Capacity may be expanded to 30 mgd if necessary, giving Brawley’s water system a healthy outlook for the future.