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Arkansas’ largest water utility is preparing to kick off an extensive renovation of the Jack H. Wilson Water Treatment Plant west of Little Rock. The estimated price for upgrading the state’s largest water treatment facility: $150 million.
“That’s a big number,” said Tad Bohannon, CEO of Central Arkansas Water. “This will be the biggest bond issue we’ve ever done.”
The future bond issue will be supported by an indefinite rate increase for CAW’s 490,280 consumers, located primarily in Pulaski and Saline counties and northwest Lonoke County. The utility, which also supplies water for parts of Grant, Perry, Faulkner, White and Garland counties, is in the midst of a rate study to analyze capital needs for the next decade-plus.
“We’re looking at a longer term horizon of 2050, so we don’t have any bumps ahead, plan ahead,” Bohannon said.
The CAW has already changed its rates, removing its practice of providing 200 cubic feet of water (about 1,496 gallons) as part of its minimum monthly charge to customers.
The move, described internally as more free water, began last year by reducing the amount to 100 cubic feet as part of its monthly base load.
This change helped boost 2021 revenue to more than $75.5 million, a 12.8% increase from $66.9 million in 2020.
This year’s income will increase thanks to the monthly base rate which will become a monthly charge. As of June 1, no water is included as part of this monthly charge of $7.85 for customers in Little Rock and North Little Rock and $10.28 for others.
CAW’s Top 10 Customers
|1. Jacksonville Aqueduct|
|2. Salem Water Users Public Water Authority|
|3. Bryant Water and Sewer|
|4. Arkansas Department of Corrections|
|5. 3M Co.|
|6. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences|
|7. Cabot Aqueduct|
|8. Shannon Hills Water Authority.|
|9. Sardis Public Water Authority|
|10 Kimberly Clark Corp.|
These items reflect consecutive increases in the basic monthly rate, which included the so-called free water. The CAW added $1 in 2017 and another $1 in 2018.
These additional charges along with increased actual water usage rates are tied to the utility’s goal of funding more upgrades to its aging infrastructure, primarily underground pipes some of which date back to a century.
“Replacing horizontal lines is part of a distribution plan,” Bohannon said. “We paid on rates rather than debt.”
Even with the recent increase in tariffs, CAW ranks among the cheapest water providers among major cities. This is according to information collected by Memphis Light Gas & Water.
Based on MLGW’s 2022 survey, residential rates at CAW ranked third lowest in the nation. The lowest rates are provided by the Orlando Public Utilities Commission in Florida, and Phoenix is home to the second lowest residential rates.
The ranking of low-cost TCA commercial fares varied by category, ranging from third to sixth.
Standing in the shade of the Wilson plant administration and laboratory building on a sunny, humid morning, Bohannon points out the importance of the treatment facility compared to the CAW’s second largest water treatment facility. at Ozark Point in the Hillcrest area of Little Rock.
“This, here, is the most critical part of the CAW,” he said of the 48-acre Wilson complex. “We can operate with the Ozark factory offline. We will never be able to function without this factory.
The Wilson plant produces 75% of the treated water that goes to faucets, hydrants, sprinklers and toilets from CAW’s 2,671 miles of pipe.
“We have been working on the preliminary engineering report on what needs to be done [to renovate the Wilson Plant] for about a year,” said Blake Weindorf, CAW’s chief operating officer.
Work on the design and specification is expected to be completed next year with construction expected to start in mid-2024.
“When that’s done, all the major assets will have been renovated,” Bohannon said. “After completing this work, we are ready for 2080, maybe 2100.”
Central Arkansas Water directors at the Jack H. Wilson Water Treatment Plant: Blake Weindorf, chief operating officer, left, and Tad Bohannon, general manager. (Jason Burt)
In 2020, CAW completed a $32 million renovation of its gravity-fed Ozark Point water treatment facility 35 miles west of 1,240-acre Lake Winona in the Ozark National Forest. Ouachita.
An upgraded Wilson plant with improved capabilities and updated technology is expected to be fully online in 2027. The facility harvests its water from 8,900-acre Maumelle Lake, the largest CAW water source, surrounded by a shoreline of 70 miles.
“We anticipate that we should have capacity expansion as a product of the retrofit that could increase peak production to 150 million gallons per day without expanding the facility footprint,” Weindorf said.
The concrete-domed Clear Well No. 2 visible from Interstate 430 holds 5 million gallons of water. In total, the Wilson plant contains 15 million gallons of water.
Throughout the CAW system, the volume of potable water available totals 75 million gallons.
“We always meet or exceed industry standards,” Bohannon said. “But the upgrades will allow the Wilson plant to treat water to a high standard.”
This increased capacity will provide more leeway to produce quality water while dealing with unusual circumstances such as increased turbidity on Maumelle Lake caused by storms or sustained easterly winds.
“For our customers, we have great water, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better,” Bohannon said. “In many cases, we are ahead of the regulations. That’s where you have to stay. »
Wilson upgrades will help the CAW system withstand extraordinary stress tests such as the February 2021 Snowmageddon event.
Colder water is more difficult to process and requires the system to push more water during cold temperatures than even high demand summer heat. 19 months ago, prolonged below-freezing temperatures contributed to the challenge by bursting pipes and bleeding water.
In round numbers, the tally was 100 ruptures on fire department hoses and 1,000 ruptures on residential service lines. Residential demand has also increased with the added drain of dripping faucets to protect against frozen pipes.
The historical woes of the water system in Jackson, Mississippi, serve as a cautionary tale of mismanagement exacerbated by tax snafus. The recent floods served as a catalyst to break the city’s long-neglected water system and highlighted Jackson’s ongoing water quality issues.
“It’s a great example of what happens when you run a water treatment plant to failure,” Bohannon said of the flood disaster. “At some point, you have to reinvest before the end of life.”
The approximate figure put forward to solve Jackson’s water problems: 1 billion dollars.