2007-06-07 / Front Page

State bickers with Jamestown over water data

By Dotti Farrington

State Water Resources Board officials late last month renewed recommendations to rule the Jamestown Water Department in non-compliance because required water supply data is long overdue. A board vote on the recommendation is set for June 12.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said Monday that he was working, via consultant Pare Engineering, to determine the evolution of the problems and the timing with the town report. "We want an opportunity to sit down with the full board to determine how they reached these conclusions," Keiser said.

Keiser said he was confident that all requirements could be met. He also questioned the accuracy of some information the state cited as being incomplete.

State officials said they were uncomfortable about having to make the negative ruling, because Jamestown has generally had a good reputation, especially in its water conservation efforts. Jamestown had been commended by the board when it tied for first place to submit an acceptable report under the new system established in 1999. Some of the latest data provided by the town was also cited as being good to outstanding, such as the town's water rate structure.

On May 29, state officials were critical of Jamestown's failure to provide all required data in the new report. They explained the information is needed by several state and federal agencies to evaluate the town water supply for longterm adequacy and conservation, as well as for planning for shortages before a drought occurs.

Staff members and the board's Public Drinking Water Protection Committee originally recommended the non-compliance rating in February. The consultant challenged it and the state board then ordered reconsideration of the rating.

The board consists of directors or their designees from the state departments of environmental management, administration, health, economic development and agriculture. The board itself and its representative agencies have roles in water project financing, as well as technical and administrative oversight.

The non-compliance rating gives towns an automatic one-year extension for the data to be provided. That rating does not have specific financial consequences, but must be referred to the state Public Utilities Commission as a complaint, subject possibly to hearings and unspecified penalties, accord- ing to state laws.

The state staff and committee noted the report requirements are provided to towns in a complete list of data sought. The report deadline, as extended, was November 2006. There are no options, other than a non-compliance rating, for towns that do not meet the report deadline, the staff said.

The Town Council gave a $16,000 contract in mid-2006 to Pare Engineering to do the report, a five-year update about the water system and how it will be maintained. Pare did the original five year report and the required 30-month update.

In February of this year, Pare asked for more time and proposed that the board could give a less severe rating, called a notice of first deficiency. The staff said regulations clearly provide the deficiency rating for a report that is substantially complete and needing relatively few and minor details. Committee members, by consensus, decided to tell the full board that it backs the staff position for non-compliance because so much information is missing.

The staff presented a packet of 16 pages, detailing 11 specific concerns about Jamestown's water, other agency evaluations and generic reference materials. In discussion, Beverly O'Keefe, the board's supervising planner, cited the town's growth of customers and water demands as examples of the need for a fully updated plan.

O'Keefe said Pare's 30-month report listed a population increase of 3,168 people and a water connection increase of 868 customers since December 1999, but it "does not state how this increased demand for more water will be managed without a new source of water supply or an additional demand implementation strategy."

Keiser said the numbers are completely wrong. The town has no need to develop a second source of water.

The state is aware that Jamestown is trying to get its new water treatment plant built. But state offi- cials said that factor was not included in the data Pare provided, and it needs to be, with an explanation how that will meet the increased water demand. Keiser agreed Monday that it was hard to understand how the new water treatment plant plans were omitted.

O'Keefe commented, "We may intuitively know what is being done, but we need the plan in writing. The public needs to know and the state needs to know."

The Pare representative at the meeting, Brendan Ennis, said "I don't refute the deficiencies," but he attempted to dismiss O'Keefe's citation about growth, saying the numbers "have to be taken with a grain of salt." O'Keefe and committee members faulted his response as a "poor choice of words." They suggested that even if a Pare methodology now uses a different set of figures, the bottom line is the same: more customers and needs. They also called attention to other shortcomings of the submitted data.

O'Keefe's written report included "the increasing poor water quality in Jamestown Shores (that) may soon require" town water. She suggested the five year update needs to acknowledge that situation and include plans for response to needs of that area.

Keiser said O'Keefe's statement reflects build-out concerns about Jamestown Shores. He said there are no reports, internal or external, about existing poor water quality. He said the town is acting to prevent build-out problems, via the relatively new high ground water ordinances. He said he realizes such data needs to be added to the report to the state.

Keiser also said he questioned other data that O'Keefe represented as factual and needing attention. O'Keefe said the Jamestown submission had too many significant deficiencies.

Committee members suggested a few other water suppliers are slow to meet regulations. A February 2007 board report lists 30 of the state's 32 major suppliers on schedule, some with time extensions; and only two in noncompliance. Jamestown was on the extension list at the time of that report.

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