Group threat­ens pe­ti­tion drive

The Sentinel-Record - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID SHOWERS

Part of the coali­tion that or­ga­nized suc­cess­ful pe­ti­tion drives ear­lier this year against or­di­nances an­nex­ing lake-ad­ja­cent lands is re­solved to do the same for the wa­ter rate in­crease the Hot Springs Board of Direc­tors plans on con­sid­er­ing at its Nov. 21 business meet­ing.

A pe­ti­tion re­fer­ring the or­di­nance to city vot­ers was the con­sen­sus that emerged from last week’s gath­er­ing at the Gar­land County Li­brary, said Bob Drig­gers of the Gar­land County Good Gov­ern­ment Group. The ac­tivist as­so­ci­a­tion held a pub­lic fo­rum on the pro­posed or­di­nance, which would in­crease the min­i­mum monthly

charge by $3 next year to raise rev­enue for debt ser­vice pay­ments on $110 mil­lion of cap­i­tal im­prove­ments to the city’s wa­ter sys­tem.

The min­i­mum charge would in­crease to $13 by 2021 un­der the or­di­nance’s rate sched­ule, a

160-per­cent bump from the $4.99 cus­tomers in­side the city cur­rently pay for the first 1,000 gal­lons of us­age. The en­abling or­di­nance was re­moved from the agen­das of the board’s Oct. 17 and Nov. 7 meet­ings.

The Good Gov­ern­ment Group was part of the coali­tion that col­lected more than 6,000 sig­na­tures in sup­port of ref­er­en­dum pe­ti­tions on or­di­nances an­nex­ing ar­eas sit­u­ated be­tween the cor­po­rate lim­its and Lake Hamil­ton, prompt­ing the board to re­peal the or­di­nances in March in­stead of sched­ul­ing a special elec­tion.

Per city or­di­nance, there’s a

30-day dead­line af­ter the pas­sage of any or­di­nance or res­o­lu­tion for fil­ing a ref­er­en­dum pe­ti­tion. The sig­na­tures of 1,440 reg­is­tered city vot­ers are needed for the board to re­fer an or­di­nance to vot­ers.

The panel at last week’s meet­ing ques­tioned the ra­tio­nale for is­su­ing $95 mil­lion in debt to bring the city’s 23 mil­lion gal­lon-av­er­age day al­lo­ca­tion from Lake Oua­chita on­line. Ques­tions were also raised about the pru­dence of pay­ing $444,440 a year to the U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers to store the wa­ter be­hind Blakely Moun­tain Dam.

The city be­gan mak­ing pay­ments in May, amor­tiz­ing its share of $12.4 mil­lion in stor­age costs de­spite be­ing un­able to ac­cess the wa­ter un­til the in­take, raw-wa­ter line, treat­ment plant and dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem that will be fi­nanced by the in­debt­ed­ness are in place.

The panel in­cluded Bill Malone, of lo­cal en­gi­neer­ing firm Malone & As­so­ciates; Bud West, a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nity Wa­ter Com­mit­tee, a bi­lat­eral city-county group that formed in 2014 at the re­quest of The Greater Hot Springs Cham­ber of Com­merce and Fifty for the Fu­ture; and for­mer Jus­tice of the Peace Ellen Varhalla, a re­tired en­gi­neer.

They said the cur­rent wa­ter sup­ply is ad­e­quate to meet de­mand and could be lever­aged to serve fu­ture needs if the city in­creased its fin­ished wa­ter stor­age ca­pac­ity and re­duced the per­cent­age of line loss, stress­ing that the city needs to shore up the dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem be­fore it brings an­other source on­line.

Panelists pointed to the in­ef­fi­ciency of a sys­tem, that, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion from the city’s rate con­sul­tant and the Arkansas Depart­ment of Health, re­quired 15 mil­lion gal­lons of pro­duc­tion to meet last year’s av­er­age-day de­mand of 7.9 mil­lion gal­lons.

The Health Depart­ment’s sur­vey showed 27.72 per­cent of wa­ter pro­duc­tion was lost last year to leaks in a sprawl­ing dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem serv­ing more than

35,000 me­ters, of which about half are out­side the cor­po­rate lim­its. The 2010 sur­vey in­di­cated line loss ac­counted for 42.7 per­cent of pro­duc­tion.

The city has said leaks are in­evitable given the age of the dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem, ex­plain­ing that the bench­mark for line loss is about

10 or 15 per­cent. Ac­cord­ing to city bud­get in­for­ma­tion, $1.6 mil­lion was spent from the Wa­ter Fund in 2014 for dis­tri­bu­tion/col­lec­tion line im­prove­ments. The amended

2015 Wa­ter Fund bud­get al­lo­cated

$2.6 mil­lion, and the fund’s adopted bud­get for 2016 di­rected $1.5 mil­lion to line im­prove­ments.

The city has also said about

10 per­cent of pro­duc­tion goes to back­wash, the process of us­ing fin­ished wa­ter to clean fil­ters at the two treat­ment plants.

The panel ques­tioned if growth pro­jec­tions mer­ited the need for more wa­ter. Ac­cord­ing to the city’s rate con­sul­tant, av­er­age-day de­mand will reach 8.5 mil­lion gal­lons a day by 2026, an

8-per­cent in­crease over last year. The 15 mil­lion-gal­lon a day plant the city plans on build­ing to treat its Lake Oua­chita al­lo­ca­tion would give it more than 43 mil­lion gal­lons of treat­ment ca­pac­ity, adding to the 28.33 mil­lion gal­lons the state said the city can treat at its 50-year-old Oua­chita Plant on up­per Lake Hamil­ton and 70-yearold Lake­side Plant that pro­cesses raw wa­ter from the city reser­voir at Lake Ricks.

The up­dated draft of the city’s wa­ter sup­ply study pre­sented ear­lier this year said de­mand can be met un­til at least 2037 if the Lake Oua­chita al­lo­ca­tion is added to the city’s pro­duc­tion port­fo­lio. The ad­di­tion of the 20 mil­lion-gal­lon a day al­lo­ca­tion from DeGray Lake the city has right of first re­fusal to would en­sure the city’s wa­ter fu­ture into the next cen­tury, the city has said.

The panel chal­lenged the need for that kind of long-range plan­ning, ex­plain­ing that sys­tems typ­i­cally plan for only 20 to 30 years out.

State Sen. Alan Clark, R-Dis­trict 13, of Lons­dale, cau­tioned that de­feat­ing the rate in­crease would con­tinue giv­ing the city a ra­tio­nale for re­strict­ing wa­ter ser­vice out­side the cor­po­rate lim­its. The re­stric­tions were im­posed af­ter max­i­mum-day pro­duc­tion reached 81.47 per­cent of ca­pac­ity in 2012.

Ac­cord­ing to the Health Depart­ment’s 2012 sur­vey, max­i­mum-day pro­duc­tion spiked to more than 23 mil­lion gal­lons that year. Av­er­age daily pro­duc­tion was 14.8 mil­lion gal­lons, and ac­cord­ing to the city’s rate con­sul­tant, av­er­age-daily de­mand was 9 mil­lion gal­lons.

Clark, who co-chairs the Wa­ter Provider Leg­isla­tive Task Force, said the pol­icy of lim­it­ing ac­cess in the un­in­cor­po­rated area of the city’s ser­vice ter­ri­tory has come at the ex­pense of growth and de­vel­op­ment. Pre­vent­ing the Lake Oua­chita al­lo­ca­tion from com­ing on­line would al­low the city to fur­ther jus­tify its con­nec­tion and ex­ten­sion pol­icy, he told the gath­er­ing.

“They think some­how they’re go­ing to force peo­ple to an­nex by shut­ting off the wa­ter in the county,” he said. “Just the op­po­site of that has hap­pened. Peo­ple don’t want any­thing to do with be­ing in the city.

“The fact we’re stop­ping growth makes me want to pull my hair out,” he said. “I don’t want to give them the ex­cuse that they don’t have wa­ter, and that you guys stopped them.”

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