Turning on the tap and pouring a cold glass of drinking water isn’t something we think too much about in Juneau, said Rorie Watt, City and Borough of Juneau Engineering Director. After all, we have excellent and abundant drinking water in this town.
But the story of Juneau’s water runs deeper. Water and waste water utilities in Juneau are a “$15 to $20 million per having year public company,” Watt said. Every year, it takes about $6 million to run the wells, reservoirs, fire hydrants and other systems that bring juneau its water. Wastewater systems cost about double that, he said.
It also takes a lot to keep the infrastructure up and running, city Public Works Director Kirk Duncan said. The department needs to fund about $73 million in infrastructure improvements. These include new wells, a microfiltration system for Juneau’s drinking water and a new $1 million water main along Egan Drive between 10th and Main streets, Duncan said. A full list of Public Works’ upcoming projects can be found online at www.juneauratestudy.com.
“It doesn’t take very long to eat up those 73 million bucks,” Duncan said.
Watt spoke on two major upcoming water projects at Thursday’s Business Roundtable Luncheon hosted by the Juneau and Alaska chambers of commerce.
Two new wells will be dug in about 15 months at Gold Creek, where five drinking water wells already exist, Watt said. This project will cost about $3 million, Duncan said.
“We’re at the point where we need to drill new wells,” Watt said. “The water utility is having trouble supplying all the water we need.”
That water is used by city residents, and taken in bulk by Capital City Fire and Rescue and Alaskan Brewing, he said. It also includes the water used to fill the tanks of summer cruise ships as they pass through Juneau.
Last year, the city couldn’t supply enough water to satisfy both cruise ships and city residents. The city can pump about 5 million gallons of drinking water from Gold Creek per day, and 1 million from Salmon Creek, but summer usage peaks at 5 million gallons per day. Five or six cruise ships in port can use another million gallons per day, pushing the system to its limit.
“There were days when they couldn’t fill ships up,” Watt said. “We are able to supply a very small amount.”
Because the new wells won’t be completed for another 15 months, the city won’t have “as stable a water supply this summer as we’d like,” but will hopefully be able to support more ships the following summer, he said.
About 20 months from now, public works will start installation of a microfiltration system at Salmon Creek — a $5.5 million project. The filtration system will cut down on episodes of turbidity — murky water — so the city will no longer have to take breaks from using the creek as a drinking water source.
“It’s a Brita water filter on a municipal scale,” Watt said after his presentation.
Depending on what the city Assembly decides, parts of these projects could be funded by water utility rate increases, Duncan said. A rate study done recently by an independent firm showed that the city should increase rates by 9.5 percent for the next five years, and by 5 percent for five years after that in order to keep pace with infrastructure improvements, he said.
Watt said that past rate increases were “not kept in pace with inflation.” Now, he said, there are a lot of maintenance projects to catch up on. Those include improvements built in the 1980s, when Juneau grew rapidly, he said.
“Here we are 30 to 40 years later, and we’re faced with all kinds of maintenance decisions,” Watt said.
City staff is reviewing the water rate study results and will make a recommendation on rate increases to the Assembly Committee of the Whole soon, Duncan said.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.