Red Cliff battles dripping water
December 4, 2003
“The residents of Red Cliff are bleeding tremendous amounts of water to avoid freezing their pipes,” said Guy Patterson, Red Cliff town manager. “We need people to consume less water.”
Red Cliff officials are asking residents to turn down their bleeders – or dripping faucets – because of the amount of water produced by the town’s water plant equals the amount being consumed.
“Red Cliff is producing and using about 225,000 gallons of water per day. The people are consuming just as much,” Patterson said. “That averages out to nearly 700 gallons per resident per day.”
The number is almost 10 times the normal average use of water, Patterson said. The town’s once troubled filtration system was designed to produce enough water to supply five times the normal average rate.
“When it starts freezing and getting cold, we start running our pumps,” he said. “What we’ve come to realize is that we’re running pumps full-time all the time.”
The distribution system for the town “has holes that effect the amount of water consumed,” he said.
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During the summer months, the filtration system produces enough water to fill the town’s 30-foot storage tank while the system is on standby and not producing water for long periods of time, he said.
During the winter, however, the system runs full-time at full capacity and cannot raise the level above six or seven feet in the storage tank, he said.
“People are bleeding right now or else their water pipes will break,” said Red Cliff Mayor Betty Sandoval.
Whenever there is a disruption in production, the town actually consumes more than can be produced, Patterson said. The situation will continue unless the town pays to produce more water or the residents consume less.
“Stop consuming the water,” Patterson said.
Red Cliff town council members might go door-to-door with flyers to notify residents about a pending water ordinance aimed at decreasing water use. December also marks the first month of a winter-long public information campaign to get the word out to residents.
“We’re trying to educate the people now so this will help the water plant,” Sandoval said. “We’re taking it one day at a time and one step at a time.”
Water customers will be receiving flyers in their water bill about the bleeding faucets, Patterson said. Residents also will be informed that heavy bleeding of lines might increase their water bill because of increased chemical costs, increased chance of mechanical failures that cost time and money to repair, and increased chance of going on a boil order.
For two years, Red Cliff battled an on-again, off-again safety order to boil all municipal water before drinking. When the water plant is not operating properly, town water mains fill with untreated water from Turkey Creek, which can carry bacteria and parasites, such as giardia. The town’s 350 residents had either been boiling water to kill those organisms or using bottled water.
The state’s health department had threatened the town with fines if it did not get its water works in order, town officials said. The health department lifted the order last June as the town’s new $460,00 water plant again began producing drinkable water.
Since then, the town and state have been working together to get the water plant back on line. Now the state is requiring the town government to train staff, have the plant operated by a licensed contractor and develop communications strategies in case of an emergency.
Meanwhile, the water ordinance the town is proposed to deal with over-consumption might increase fines for delinquent water bills, specify timelines for collections, give authority to shut off water to severely delinquent residents, take legal action and require that bleeder lines have shut-off valves, Patterson said.
“We’re working on the water ordinance that may increase collection rates,” Patterson said. “We’re getting serious. If people violate this ordinance, they’re going to get fined.”
Christine Ina Casillas can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 607 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.