Water Study Nears Close

Published 5:14 pm Thursday, December 9, 2010

PRINCE EDWARD – It has been a long time in coming, but the County is moving closer to maximum guaranteed price on a possible public water system tapping into the Sandy River Reservoir.

Still, that price isn't expected to be available Tuesday as had been thought.

The results of a pilot test won't be completed until after the meeting, according to County Administrator Wade Bartlett, and the bottom line is they'll have better information for a better number if they wait.

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“So the recommendation is going to be that we allow them to wait until February,” he said near The Herald's deadline Thursday.

So no presentation is on the Board's Tuesday agenda, but the board is expected to consider action on an extension.

“Really…once you get the number, the real number, that is just the starting point,” commented Bartlett had previously cited in an interview with The Herald. “'Cause now you know what you're aiming at. It's kind of like when you go buy a car, you know there's a sticker price and then there's the real number once you work it out with the salesman and then you decide can I afford it or not?”

Crowder Construction – with Draper Aden engineers – has worked on specifics outlined in an interim agreement with Prince Edward wading through a potential project that would tap into the reservoir.

County officials have long looked to the Reservoir's potential but what brought the latest plans into focus occurred in 2008 when the County was presented an unsolicited proposal – under the PPEA, or Public Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002, localities may receive unsolicited proposals from private firms. Late last year, County supervisors approved an interim agreement with Crowder Construction Company to take a deeper look into the specifics of a water project. At a cost of about $2 million, the findings should help fill in some of the unknown blanks.

Crowder Construction, as part of that agreement, was expected to provide financial feasibility services that include projected revenues and expenses of the proposed system that factor several options, including service of a backbone system for an intake and water treatment structure, main transmission lines and distribution system to provide service to The Manor and Hampden-Sydney College area, a second option that adds the Crewe/Burkeville area, and a third that is limited to Crewe/Burkeville.

The board has met with Crowder Construction and Draper Aden representatives on several occasions during the study (including a November meeting).

Bartlett noted it has taken “a lot of work” to get to this point. He cited by comparison the length of time it took for the new library, which he said is much less complicated than a water system.

Work was still ongoing at the reservoir-essentially, engineers were operating a small water plant simulating operation in the pilot study. Bartlett said they were getting good results out of the water quality, though a more thorough lab test on results were expected.

The project study collectively is expected to produce results to the 100 percent design level for a water intake, 30 percent level for the water plant and any storage tanks and water lines less than that figure.

Should the project go forward, the County could partner with Crewe and Burkeville for water connections and engineers have studied and reported on such efforts.

Draper Aden has presented information, though no decisions have been made. Just like it is with Prince Edward, Bartlett cited, it's going to be a financial question-does it make sense financially and is it affordable.

“…I think the board's made it clear that they have not made the decision on this to go forward or not,” Bartlett said. “If it's…outrageously a burden on the county citizens, they're not gonna do this-now that's my opinion.”

He added, “We are concerned about the future development and the water supply for growth in the county and that's the reason that this thing was started 40 years ago when they started building the reservoir-looking into that-this is the next progression. I mean, you acquired the land, you build a reservoir, you got it filled, you did that for a reason and that's to serve as a water supply so this is the next progression in that.”

County supervisors are unlikely to immediately act on the project following the report. The board may even look for clarifications or more information.

“There's a lot of variables that you just gotta look at. You gotta nail down…the partners. You've got to look at your finances. You've got to see if you can get some funding help or not from various agencies. So…this will be months into the future before the board would make that decision…I would think unless things came together much faster than I think it will,” Bartlett said prior to the expected delay.

There are many variables into what, if any system the County may choose to pursue from size to service area.

“Building any major infrastructure project takes a lot of study and review to decide if you want to do whatever the project is,” Bartlett said.

You've got to look at the financial situation in regards to whatever the project is, he also said. And, he noted that “you've got to look at your other financial issues, other capital projects that you may or may not have to do or want to do and then the board would have to prioritize those. So this is not just always about, in this case, the water.”

Asked what has been most surprising of what has been studied to this point, Bartlett didn't think that anything has been that great of a surprise.

“I've been involved in other utility projects before and I knew they're a long, laborious enterprise that are expensive,” Bartlett said.

He later reflected on the fast response from the Health Department in Danville on their preliminary engineering report.

Vice Chairman Howard Simpson offered that the most surprising thing to him is that it's “working and going along a whole lot simpler than I thought it was (going to) go.” He assessed that it hasn't been all that bad.

There has been no surprises, haven't run into big problems that would delay things and that everything has worked in place as they went along, Simpson assessed.

As for the need for public water, Bartlett noted that the follow-up of the next phase of this is to do surveys of the residents.

“But this was never meant to serve the existing residents. Nobody's gonna be told they have to get off their well,” Bartlett said.

He later added, “This was for the future.”

The County has a small water service system outside of Town and purchases water from Farmville. The Town's water source is the Appomattox River.

Still, many of those who see a need for more water point to the drought in 2002 when the Appomattox was reduced to a tiny stream.

Simpson also wondered what industry or business is going to come “and spend millions of dollars and of putting something in and taking a chance on, say next summer or two years from now the Appomattox River going down enough where they haven't got enough water to support the town of Farmville and the colleges. No company's going to come in and invest money like (that) knowing that they're (going to) take their chance and knowing that it can happen 'cause it has been right at the edge of happening.”

Precipitation patterns are changing, Bartlett cited, and ground water levels are falling throughout the state. There are 1,000 more residential wells in Prince Edward than ten years ago, he added, and was uncertain of the number of more agricultural wells.

“…What's happening between the change in the precipitation pattern and all those new wells is our ground water levels are falling,” Bartlett said.

In another ten years, with their normal rate of growth-about 100 houses a year, give or take-in another ten years it's another 1,000 wells. Another ten years, another thousand wells.

“What effect is that gonna have on the groundwater level?” Bartlett questions. “It's gonna have some, there's no doubt.”

The reason for looking at the project, Bartlett cited, is a reliable water supply for the County and the Town.

While the study is ongoing, the County also has a separate engineering firm's review (from Wiley/Wilson) of the draft preliminary engineering report.

Among the concerns cited in the November 2 memorandum were “uncertainties in the extend (sic) of the areas to be served as they relate to demands,” that “long water age resulting from low water demands” and “high annual unit cost of water production due to low water demands.”

In part of the report presented to the board, it was noted that “…absent the inevitable needs of…existing waterworks, and beyond economic development attraction, little immediate need is shown for the project.”

The firm also offers that the County should “continue to be fully aware of the…financial risks associated with the implementation of the Sandy River Project” and that the County “should recognize that this project stands to provide the foundation for economic development in the County as well as significant enhancement to the reliability of future and existing public water supply for the County and its neighbors.”

Simpson cites he has been on the board since the dam gates were closed to the Reservoir. Even if they put the water lines in, he offers that they want to have a place for Farmville to have a connection for emergency water any time they need it.

It's a decision, Bartlett says, of the Town Council as to whether they want it or not.

If you don't have a reliable supply of water or one that can be expanded greatly, “it will limit the flexibility you have in attracting companies,” Bartlett said. “Any company that would need a lot of water, you would have a hard time convincing them to come.”