PLATTSBURGH — Ground-water wells could be the city’s answer to some water system woes.
The City of Plattsburgh’s current system pulls from up to three surface-level sources, including its primary source the Mead Reservoir Dam.
But Environmental Manager Jonathon Ruff said the dams and reservoirs are dated, requiring pricey updates estimated somewhere north of $10 million.
And those water supplies require maintenance and monitoring responsibilities, Ruff said, as well as emergency action plans.
“Dams and reservoirs also leave downstream residents less comfortable,” he added.
“We’ve decided to look for some ground-water sources to either supplement and/or replace our surface-water sources.”
THE FOUR R’S
In recent weeks, Common Council resolutions authorized submission of a grant application for a slew of water-system updates.
The improvements were born of an engineering study performed by consultant CDM Smith and averaged $19.8 million.
“They've identified all kinds of things to do to the system in order to improve its reliability, its redundancy, its resiliency and its robustness — the four R's,” Ruff said.
"Most of the improvements are actually repairs or replacements of infrastructure that have seen better days,” he continued.
"The only addition would be the installation of ground-water wells.”
According to Ruff, construction of a ground-well water averages some $500,000.
The number of wells needed for the city would depend what the Common Council decides to do with the city’s current reservoir sources, he said.
“If we are just going to supplement the reservoir capacity, then maybe one or two wells is all the city will need,” Ruff explained.
“If we are going to replace the full reservoir capacity, then we’ll need multiple wells — at least three, maybe four or five.
“If you do four, it’s $2 million,” he said. “That is a lot less than $10 million going into your dams.”
Cost for wells would be upped by generator and transmission line expenses, too.
And, Ruff said, those systems present potential risks.
“The reservoirs are all gravity flow from the reservoir to the treatment plant and then to the city — it’s 100 percent reliable,” he said.
“If we install wells, we’re going to need electricity to pump the water from the wells, up into the transmission lines, which will then flow by gravity.
“You’ll be relying on energy and mechanical systems which come with some risk.”
All in all, though, the wells would require a fraction of dam maintenance.
“It’s nothing of significance,” Ruff said, “especially if you stay after it routinely.”
The grant funds being sought after are through the New York State Water Infrastructure Improvement Act.
Ruff said applicants could apply for up to 60 percent of their projects' costs, with a $3 million cap.
The list of $19.8 million worth of projects would, at most, be brought down to $16.8 million.
But, Ruff said, applying for the grant didn't tie the city to that high price tag.
"We can scale the project back as we see fit," he said.
The environmental manager said that sort of deeper analysis would be reserved for future discussions and thought potential financing models would modify the project's scale.
"We're hoping to get what's called 'hardship financing,' which would be 0 percent financing for 30 years after an initial five years of short-term borrowing at 0 percent," Ruff said.
"So if we get the hardship financing then we'll make a financial decision about what we feel we can afford and how we would phase in revenue to fund those costs."
If not, he said, the city would seek bonds on the open market.
"We also could get what they call subsidized state loans," Ruff said.
"Which is where the state pays for half the interest.
"So, there will be a range of financing options that we'll take a look at as we look at all of the work that we'd like to do and decide what we can afford and when we can afford to do it."
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