$25-30 million to replace PUA pipes; federal loan/grant could fund the worst of it

William Daniel (file photo)

It would cost $25-30 million to replace all the pipes delivering water to Parish Utilities of Ascension customers on the parish’s west bank according to Infrastructure Director William Daniel.  His sights are set a bit lower.  Daniel informed the Parish Council Utilities Committee that a federal grant might be available, $10-11 million, half of which could be utilized to replace the worst pipe with the rest going toward upgrades to PUA’s water plant.

“Competency of the plant is significantly better than it was in October (2017),” assured Daniel who inherited “a very old water plant.  So there’s no telling what might break.”

His ongoing struggle to account for 11 million (this month) gallons of “non-revenue water” led to more speculation than answers.  Are individuals receiving free water or is it being lost due to leakage?  3,000 water meters are as antiquated as those 70+ miles of galvanized pipe in the ground, with various degrees of accuracy meaning the numbers cannot be relied upon.

Should the USDA grant (or loan) be forthcoming state-of-the-art replacements, at $300/meter, will be installed; $900,000 give or take along with a SCADA (Supervisory control and data acquisition) system to modernize operations.  Those grant monies are made available in order to avoid imposition of increased rates on residential consumers according to the Infrastructure Director.

During lengthy negotiations between Ascension Parish and Peoples Water during 2015-16 the parish factored in 33% rate increases necessary to pay for upgrades.

East bank sewer? Check. Peoples Water? Check. Momentous Utilities Committee

That was three years ago during the last year of Tommy Martinez’ last term in the parish presidency.  How would the parish pay to replace the rest of that pipe if rates cannot increase as a condition of the USDA grant/loan?

On the upside…

“Our water is absolutely gorgeous” even though PUA “received a violation letter in the mail from (Louisiana Department of Health).”

That is due, Daniel claimed, to a 2013 agreement between LDH and Peoples Water Company wherein PUA’s predecessor agreed to more stringent turbidity requirements “rather than upgrade the technology in the plant.”  PUA was not made aware of the agreement prior to Ascension Parish purchasing Peoples Water in September of 2016.

Turbidity is the measure of relative clarity of a liquid. It is an optical characteristic of water and is an expression of the amount of light that is scattered by material in the water when a light is shined through the water sample (Source: USGS).

Of more immediate concern for two west bank council members is the inability to equalize rates paid by consumers, some of whom pay more for water distributed through Ascension Consolidated Utilities District #1.  Oliver Joseph and Bill Dawson answer to west bank constituents who also deal with irregular billing which too often results in service being turned off.

“I find it shocking that we’re this far into owning this company and we’ve yet to rectify (PUA and ACUD #1) policies and procedures,” Councilman Benny Johnson interjected.  “It is beyond time that we have this unified.”

Infrastructure Director Daniel informed Utilities that an engineering firm has been tasked with combining the two entities, possible since he “hopes to increase daily” water production by PUA from three to four million gallons if those federal dollars become available.  Then Daniel will have “a better idea what to do with the rate structure.”

Councilman Johnson expressed a preference for efficiency in the distribution system; identification and replacement of those leaking pipes.  The cost to do so was anticipated in the 2016 purchase of Peoples Water, including a planned rate structure to pay for it.