Water repairs proving costly (January 4, 2022)
BULLHEAD CITY — Bullhead City officials got a look at many of the assets owned by EPCOR Water Arizona before and after the city took over operation of the local water system.
What they didn’t see — or couldn’t — was the condition of some of the utility’s underground pipes, mains, pumps and wells. In the past four months, the city is becoming all too familiar with those hard-to-see pieces.
“We’re finding more problems than we anticipated,” said Utilities Director Mark Clark, who on Tuesday will ask the Bullhead City Council to ratify payment an emergency repair bill nearly $183,000 that brought a well back to working condition in mid-December. “We’ve had three wells go out on us. We never thought we’d have three wells go out in four months. That’s a lot. You don’t typically go through that.
“You can go years without a well going out and here we’ve had three in four months.”
All three, Clark said, were the result of a motor failure.
In the latest instance, Well 16-4 had to be taken offline because water had seeped into the wiring attaching the motor to the power source.
The problem wasn’t visible from the surface; the failure occurred because of something happening 540 feet below the surface.
Clark said the city had limited information about the wells, pumps, motors and other underground parts because they couldn’t be examined prior to the city’s Sept. 1 takeover of operation of the Mohave and North Mohave systems.
“It’s not very easy to inspect them,” he said. “You have to pull them out. It’s not something you want to do just to do; you only want to do it when you have to.”
To discover the problem — water had seeped into the wiring and damaged the motor powering the pump — the motor, pump and other parts had to be brought to the surface.
Some clues to a well failure are available at the surface: A significant drop in production or a loss of amperage can be quickly monitored.
“You get indications on the top to what may be happening down below,” Clark said. “We look at different things that will give us an indication.”
But, he said, the exact cause can’t be determined — or fixed — until the well is disassembled with the key components brought up from below ground.
Clark said submersible pumps do have a finite service life, typically five to seven years.
“The last one was replaced in 2019,” he said, citing EPCOR records. “It was only two years old. You don’t expect to have to replace one that soon.”
The recent well failure affected water service to “some people for a short period of time as we got things changed over,” Clark said.
While there still was water in the system, he said customers may have noticed a dramatic drop in water pressure.
“Some people weren’t getting the kind of pressure they were used to,” he said, adding that the city, with the help of Empire Pump Corp., fixed the issue.
The cost was nearly $183,000 with about $15,000 of that going to remove the pump, motor and cable and put the reassembled parts back into the ground.
The motor itself cost more than $61,000, a 1,000-foot spool of submersible cable was more than $74,000 and other components cost another $27,000.
“It can be — and is — quite expensive,” Clark said.
Clark said the city knew that when it took over the system. It didn’t know, however, how many major repairs would be needed so soon after the acquisition.
“That wasn’t part of the bond issue,” Clark said. The city authorized sale of $90 million in bonds with $80 million going to EPCOR and the remaining $10 million going toward expected legal fees, a long-term water plan and other related expenses.
The frequency of major repairs were not anticipated.
Nor was the volume of “minor repairs” for leaking pipes, mains and meters that previously were under EPCOR’s control.
“We’re averaging about 27 a day,” Clark said of the service call volume.
Not all of those are the city’s responsibility, however, because some are calls about leaks on the customer’s property.
Anything on the “other side” of the meter is the burden of the homeowner.
Still, the number of calls for the system itself — on the city’s side of the meter — has been significant.
“We’re prioritizing our leaks,” Ryan Farnell, the city’s utilities construction manager, said during a recent tour of above-ground facilities previously operated by EPCOR.
During the tour, another line break was reported to Farnell.
City Manager Toby Cotter, during that facilities tour, said he was concerned about the state of the system that now is the city’s responsibility.
“It’s an old, outdated, cobbled-together system,” Cotter said, later adding “what was handed off to us was not a good system.”
Source: Bill McMillen, Mohave Valley Daily News