The Garland Board of Commissioners approved moving forward with a state loan application that would bring sweeping improvements to the town’s aging drinking water system through a rehabilitation project and installation of a fixed-based automated meter reading network.
Leo Green Jr., engineer for Green Engineering PLLC in Wilson, presented the opportunity to the board Tuesday, touting the benefits such a state award would have for Garland and the lack of obligation involved.
“It’s not a high-pressure deal,” Green said. “Just because you fill out this application, doesn’t mean you’re obligated to take the funds or go through any part of the project. Our services for the application phase of this project is contingent upon the application being funded, so you won’t be getting a bill for us filing this application. We’re not asking for any financial commitment for the town. There’s no matching money involved.”
The town of Garland updated its distribution system in the early 1970s with new wells and extension of service. Since that time, there has not been any comprehensive metering plan to sustain the maximum revenue potential through the billing system.
There has been a growing concern by town officials to manage water loss and accounting for where water is being used, in order to get the optimal amount of much-needed revenue — all are paramount to a well-managed system, Green said.
The actual base construction total for the proposed project is just over $200,000. Engineering, administration and contingency costs would tack on another $80,000 for a total of $286,300. The project is anticipated to begin 90 days after state funding is approved and will be completed in 120 days.
The loan application is part of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, funded annually by the Environmental Protection Agency. At the end of the year, a list will be sent out of all projects applied for and which were approved. Those approved projects can be financed over a maximum of 20 years and may also be offset by up to 80 percent in grant funds based on eligibility, with need, ability to pay, poverty rate and median household income being among the criteria.
“If you’re expecting all grant, I can tell you now you won’t get all grant,” said Green. “Hopefully, you will get some grant.”
The balance will be a low-interest loan. Green said those loans were zero interest during the last budget cycle.
“That’s a grant within itself,” he said. “We don’t have any reason to believe the interest rate will not be zero.”
The benefit in found revenue could very well pay for the project, he noted.
A water loss analysis by Green Engineering showed the town is losing an average of 14 percent of water being pumped out of wells. Leaks in the system are typical of a small town that has an individual meter system with no replacement or maintenance program like Garland.
“It’s not unusual for small towns like this to have meters 25, 30 years old, or however old the system is. I don’t know if they’ve ever been changed out,” said Green. “This project would take all those meters out and put brand new meters in and hopefully reduce that 14 percent down to around 5 percent. That 14 percent of your revenue is a big amount of money at the end of the year. And not only are you losing it on the water side, you’re losing it on the sewer side because you charge the sewer based on water consumption. You revenues could be drastically by a meter replacement program.”
Corrosion in pump houses and well rehabilitation will go along with the comprehensive meter replacement program. The project will be supervised by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and its regulations.
Doing some quick calculations, Green said if the average water bill was $25 for 400 customers, that would equal $10,000 a month, or $120,000 a year. If water leaks and loss result dock close to 15 percent off that, it means Garland is losing $18,000 a year. Doubling that, because of the subsequent loss on the sewer side, Green said found revenues may outweigh the cost of the project.
“It’s a possibility that the money you’re going to get back from water and sewer loss, will pay for whatever loan you end up having to get,” Green said.
Green Engineering has proposed to develop plans and implement the construction for a fixed base radio meter system network, to include 380 residential meters, one bulk meter (that will likely be modified to two) and two well production meters. The system will include a base station, various other equipment and software, meters, a data collector, warranty and installation.
“It will be a fixed base system, with all the meters will be read from here at Town Hall,” said Green. “By virtue of this, you can have a very close monitoring of your system.”
Should someone call the town about their water bill being too high — several residents have come to the Garland board in recent months requesting adjustments on their bill, prompting the board to require proof for any bill modification — checking if the high bill was the result of a leak or loss would be easy under the new system. The resident could simply be asked to turn their water off, while the system continued to be monitored.
“You can read that meter right then, and then an hour later you can read that meter again and see if there’s a leak in the system,” said Green. “You can control it from right here. You don’t have to send somebody out there. This is the Cadillac system. This is the top of the line system. This eliminates meter readers and brings it back here where it belongs.”
Green Engineering will provide water audit training for town staff to complete each month to submit to the board for their revenue and monitoring.
The system will allow for monitoring of flow patterns, water use and chlorine levels on daily basis. The town can also track total daily flows of new water sales and compare those to the influent flow at the wastewater plant. The town also sells water to the county with no master meter, rendering the town incapable of recovering revenue from leaks, flushing and breaks that may occur from that connection. Currently, the source for calculating revenue is the cumulative total of water meters on the county system.
A more precise number, and more revenue, will be found with the project.
“Because the town has a sewer system, this new metering system will enhance the revenue potential for that service as well,” said Green. “This total meter change change-out project will provide both energy savings and water conservation through a sustainable management tool. This system will also improve customer service utilizing the data collector feature, which will allow billing staff to trend and provide reports for consumers to evaluate their own internal water loss and use on a daily basis.”
Garland mayor Winifred Murphy said any loan the town takes would have to go through the N.C. Local Government Commission, which Green Engineering would be working closely with as part of the application process. Green said the whole process is monitored very closely by many parties, especially by the LGC.
Ralph Smith, who serves as the town’s commissioner for water and sewer issues, preached the importance of the project.
“This well rehab is something that’s going to have to get done,” said Smith, “because we’re getting mighty shabby there.”
Smith made the motion to go forward with the application process and required paperwork by adopting a resolution, seconded by Commissioner Haywood Johnson and adopted unanimously. Murphy said, regardless of the success of the application, the town would continue to discuss the matter.
“This is something we need,” she said, “but this is something we’re indebting our citizens for the next 20 years.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.