Pueblo West look back at 2017

From the Pueblo West View (Christine Ina Casillas):

Water leak detection

The Pueblo West Metropolitan District hired some new crew in 2017 to help with water leak detection.

These two new staff members will be responsible for water leak detection and repairing the leaks along the 430 miles of potable water lines that run underneath Pueblo West.

Because shale rock formations, just under the ground surface in Pueblo West, many leaks can go undetected for long periods of time, said Jay-Michael Baker, communications and engagement manager with the Pueblo West Metropolitan District.

The water lost in a leak can follow these formations for hundreds of feet in some cases, and then only reach the surface in drainage ditches out of sight of the everyday operations staff and most residents.

“In one recent case the water from a main line leak found its way into the sewer system,” Baker said.

“This leak was discovered when treatment operators observed extra flow in a lift station. Their tip helped the leak detection crew locate the source of the leak.”

Since the leak flowed into the wastewater treatment system, it not only increased the cost of the lost water, but it also increased the cost of treating the extra water.

Detecting and repairing this leak saved the District a significant amount of money.

“I am very pleased with the work of the entire Collection and Distribution department,” said Scott Eilert, director of Utilities for Pueblo West.

“Particularly Rusty Ethredge, department manager, and Ben Gomez, who has taken the lead on the leak detection crew.”

The leak detection crew has located and repaired 10 significant leaks since last October.

The leak detection crew is credited with saving the District 480,685 gallons of treated water; enough to serve the average use of three single family homes for an entire year, Baker said.

“It is impossible to know exactly when a pipeline began to leak so we calculate the lost water from the date and time the leak was located until it was fixed,” Baker said.

Since the leak detection crew came in to service in October 2016, the approximate cost savings to the District for leak detection has been in the tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

In addition to the District’s recent water conservation plan, Pueblo West is conducting telecommunications and energy audits this year to identify waste, and decrease inefficiency.

Operating with a lean budget, any cost-savings that Pueblo West Metro management staff can find improves the quality of services provided to residents, he said.

Because the Pueblo West Metropolitan District looks for ways to increase efficiency and prevent waste within the district, finding solution through regularly reviewing processes and weak points is highlighted, he said.

The District’s water conservation plan, approved by the Colorado Conservation Board in August 2012, ranked leak detection as a high priority, Baker said. In response to this recommendation, the Pueblo West Metro Board approved two new full-time positions dedicated to leak detection for the 2016 budget year.

Water rate hikes

When Pueblo West residents opened their water bill from the September billing cycle, they said they were aghast at the price hike.

Some said it was a significant enough increase that they called the Pueblo West Metropolitan District with concerns about water leaks.

Officials with Pueblo West Utilities held a community meeting on Nov. 29 to answer questions from the public about the water rate increases and about the five-year water and wastewater rate plan.

Residents questioned where and how the water fees applied to their monthly bills and costs associated with sewer charges and leaks.

Kim Swearingen, deputy director of utilities for Pueblo West, said the bill period begins around the 10th of the month, give or take holidays, and go through a 31-day cycle.

For example, she said, the water bill would begin on Oct. 10 and end on Nov. 11. The data from the reading would be analyzed by Nov. 26 and the bill would be sent out and due in December for the October billing cycle.

“It’s almost like a three-month (billing) cycle but it only looks at that 31-day billing period,” she told residents during the meeting on Nov. 29.

The Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors will hold a final public hearing on Dec. 12 to approve a Water and Wastewater rate increase that will take effect Jan. 1.

The increase is part of a long-range comprehensive financial plan that was first initiated in March 2016 and partially funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

The plan recommends a five-year phased implementation that accounts for five years of operations and maintenance costs and a 10-year capital improvement plan.

The 10-year capital improvement plan lays out all long-term infrastructure needs for the Utilities Department.

The intent of the plan is to ensure the Utilities Department has sufficient revenues for the ongoing functions of the water and wastewater enterprises.

Inflation-induced increases in operating and maintenance costs, aging infrastructure, and long-term planning were all factors covered in the long-term financial plan.

The Utilities Department presented the increases to the Board of Directors at over a half dozen Board Meetings over the past two years.

Scott Eilert, director of utilities for Pueblo West, offered examples of projects to receive funding include: a gravity sewer main that serves Tract 220 and the large lot on the northwest corner of Highway 50 and McCulloch Boulevard, a lift station and force main at States Avenue Industrial Park, the rebuild of a pressure zone on Tract 251, a two million gallon water tank on the north side, and wastewater treatment plant upgrades, in addition to dozens of smaller capital projects.

On Sept. 1, the first phase of the rate increase went into effect resulting in an increase of approximately 4.6 percent for an average single-family monthly bill for both water and wastewater.

On Jan. 1, the second rate adjustment will take place with an estimated increase of 4.7 percent for an average single-family monthly bill.

The remainder of the plan adjustments are intended to take effect on Jan. 1 of each year through 2021 after the public hearing.

The water and sewer Plant Investment Fees saw a one-time increase on Sept. 1 and the district does not anticipate adjusting the PIF again within the five-year plan, Eilert said.

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