Canby Utility to replace antiquated water lines
"Leaks are costly," a cartoon drawing of a crying drop of water says in 'The Reporter.'
Ironically, Canby Utility right now is dealing with costly water line leaks of its own.
Beginning this summer, and stretching well into 2018, Canby Utility plans a replacement project of antiquated water lines, starting this July to replace main lines on NW Ninth Avenue and eventually extending to North Pine Street and the Logging County Road, each one costing roughly $120,000, said Jim Stuart, Canby Utility's operations manager.
"We have a few places here in Canby where our main lines are antiquated and old," Stuart said. "Some have had failures and some are leaking. We've developed some capital improvement projects to replace those main lines."
Dan Murphy, Canby Utility's general manager, said the cooperative has a certain amount budgeted each year for capital improvements, and right now that budget allows for about $350,000 worth of projects.
"A lot plays into each one's cost per foot," Murphy said. "One may have 15 services (customers) on one while another one may have 30. But these projects are not in response to ongoing leaks. These are aging water mains, just like what happens with any city's (infrastructure) — they age. I want to stress that these are very old mains we're replacing and we know they're suspect so we want to stay ahead of the curve on these."
Stuart said Canby Utility knows that in the months ahead, the construction projects will cause minor disruptions to traffic and property owners as the water mains are replaced. During the replacement projects, Canby Utility also plans to install temporary piping to continue providing water to each of the cooperative's customers impacted by the ongoing build-out.
"Generally, we're installing a two-inch underground pipe that attaches individual services to the existing main line," Stuart said. "Right now, we only have (three projects) on the immediate calendar, so it's hard for me to say at this time exactly when and where the other projects will begin around town. I don't have the full list in front of me — just the three at NE Ninth Avenue, N. Pine Street and (the Logging County Road)."
Stuart said that essentially there are two types of lines the company will replace — old, steel lines that have a tar lining in both internal and external portions of the pipes that wears out over time, causing the steel to "rust through."
Other lines are made of concrete and also over time the water working its way through the pipes, in general, leads to rusting, he said.
Stuart said replacing each pipe should only take "a couple of weeks at the most — there won't be a lot of disruption all over town."
"We want to keep the disruption experienced by our customers to a minimum through this entire process," Stuart said. "Private property normally will not be affected because we usually work from the mainline under the road to the (water) meters (typically) found in people's front yards at the curbside in front of their residence. We're happy we can make these improvements and replace these aging lines with new ones so that the dilapidated lines can be removed for good and we can make sure Canby Utility customers have the best quality water and best quality service we can provide for them."
Stuart, who has been with the company since this past spring, said there has not yet been a catastrophic failure to one of Canby Utility's water lines, although one 12-inch water main ruptured near the Clackamas County Event Center on December 14, 2016, spilling 500,000 gallons of water onto NE Fourth Avenue during a particularly-heavy rainstorm.
Murphy said that rupture was the result of poor contract work completed 20 to 25 years ago when the pipe that was installed was laid on top of the existing bedrock — no sand or gravel was installed underneath the pipe as a soft bedding, and over time that bedrock slowly cut into the PVC pipe, causing the pressurized line to burst.
"We are not required by the state to do this, but now we dedicate one Canby Utility employee to stand there and watch the construction take place in order to avoid that very thing happening again," Murphy said. "We're not going to assume someone is an expert at doing the work just because they say they are, even if they are licensed and bonded."
Continued growth in the city equates to anticipated future revenue increases for Canby Utility
An internal Canby Utility memorandum dated June 7, 2017 reveals highlights of its proposed fiscal year 2018 operating and capital budgets. The memo states that the water utility budget revenue reflects an increase of 3 percent over the previous fiscal year, saying that operating expenditures increased "mainly due to" hiring an additional water worker, the amount of rent paid at the company's existing downtown office building, as well as depreciation and franchise taxes.
The memo also states that Canby Utility's electric system capital contributions continue to increase because more developable land is being annexed inside the Canby city limits, and water system development charges (SDCs) — one-time fees levied on developers for newly-approved projects that will impact the water system; typically the building of a new residential subdivision, commercial structure or industrial property — also will continue increasing due to several more single-family and multi-family home developments currently moving through the planning commission and the city's approval process, which is finalized by the city council.
Overall, water reserves are expected to continue increasing for Canby Utility as more and more people move into town and more residential, commercial and industrial properties hook into the public cooperative's utility system — its water, sewer and storm-water services.
Incidentally, Canby Utility is a publicly-owned company and technically is not part of the city of Canby. Canby Utility pays a 5 percent franchise fee on sales to the city of Canby for itds operations within the city.
Electricity revenue grew 3 percent over the previous fiscal year, but interestingly operating expenditures decreased during that time. The primary factor for the decrease in expenses was more labor contractor work, which increased in order to complete capital improvement projects, such as the water line replacements that the utility will begin in earnest this summer, the memo says.
The memo also states that Canby Utility anticipates revenue from capital contributions to increase during fiscal year 2018 as more developable land is annexed inside the Canby city limits.
Personnel costs are expected to increase 5 percent, but that's mainly due to the increased cost contributions it is required to pay into the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) — not because of newly-hired employees, employee raises or executive bonuses, as has been argued off and on for months now on Facebook, but primarily those arguments begin when the Molalla River is running low, resulting in algae blooms that cause water provided by Canby Utility to smell and taste musty.
Water and odor issues on a side note
"So far this year, we haven't had any complaints related to the taste and odor issues," Murphy said. "And because of the amount of rain and snow that fell this past spring and winter, we don't anticipate having any of those problems — knock on wood."
In 2016, Canby Utility introduced a water-filtration program for its customers. The program provided a post-purchase $25 rebate for all residential water customers, and a $200 rebate for commercial customers, such as restaurants, delis, and beverage establishments, which serve Canby Utility water to customers.
Other Canby Utility customers who use the utility's water but live in a multi-unit dwelling, such as an apartment building, and do not receive an individual water bill also qualified for the $25 rebate.
Although Canby Utility received at least hundreds of complains about water and odor issues, only about a dozen people took the company up on its $25 rebate offer last year, Murphy told the Herald.