Manila looks at serious upgrades

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

MANILA – The sandy outpost may upgrade its water tank, doubling or tripling its storage capacity, making the town safer in the event of an earthquake or major fire. The Manila Community Services District is also looking at other sewer and water upgrades, as well as a rate increase in the coming year.

Rate increase

An engineer with GHD is currently conducting a rate study for the tiny district’s sewer and water departments. That study must be completed before the Board of Directors can determine the exact extent of the increase, which would likely be considered next summer.

The district’s water budget took a big hit in March with the closure of the Sierra Pacific Industries sawmill, located along the banks of the Mad River Slough at the north end of town.

The mill, now completely shuttered, was the district’s largest customer, accounting for 10 percent, or $17,400 a year, of the water department’s budget, and seven percent, or $13,400 a year, of its sewer budget.

Another factor in the rate increase is inflation and the board’s decision not to increase rates over the past nine years. The Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District is also renegotiating its contracts with the municipalities that it sells water to, which include Manila, Arcata, Eureka, McKinleyville, Cutten, Glendale, Fieldbrook and Blue Lake.

Although more number crunching must still take place, the district is anticipating a water rate increase of $10 to $16 a month. The sewer portion of the bill may go up $1 a month.

“It’s significantly less than I expected,” said Manila Manager Chris Drop in a Nov. 18 interview Nov. 18.

The district has 350 customers, who now each pay a combined sewer and water bill of about $70 a month.

Water tank

The district recently received a $500,000 planning grant from the state to study and design several water system improvements, the largest being the replacement of the town’s water storage tank located next to the district office on Park Street. The tank, made out of redwood, holds about 100,000 gallons.

“It’s not big enough to accommodate an extended power outage and fire flows,” Drop said.
The district is looking at a more seismically stable cement tank that would hold from 200,000 to 300,000 gallons of water.

The district would also like to replace some water lines that have been springing leaks. There have been numerous leaks on Peninsula Drive on the bay side of town. “We’ve been hammered with leaks,” Drop said.
The planning grant would pay for the designs, studies and permits for the projects. The district would then be in a position to apply for state grant funds to pay for the actual improvements.

Sewer projects

The district is attempting to get a technical assistance grant to pay for some sewer projects.
“We’re taking the first baby steps,” Drop said. The district is so early in the process, that the details are sketchy.
One of the projects would allow the district to treat the gunk it pumps out of the holding tanks the residents have in their yards.

The sewer solids settle to the bottom of the tanks, while the liquids are pumped into the sewer mains and transported to the treatment plant, perched on the dunes west of Park Road.

Every few years, the district has to visit each household with a tanker truck and pump the solids, and whatever liquid is there at the time, out of the individual tanks. The watery sludge is then trucked to Arcata or McKinleyville for treatment. It can cost $400 per truck load to handle the waste.

Drop is proposing that the district purchase a machine that would essentially strain out the inorganic solids, such as baby wipes, and allow the liquidy soup-from-hell to be treated in its sewer plant.

The solids would accumulate in an underground tank, and every few years would be removed. This could save the district both staff time and money.

The district is would also like to install an emergency bypass valve at its sewer lift station, which pumps the septage up to the treatment plan. Right now, if there’s an emergency or a generator fails, residents are warned to not use the sewer system. If they fail to heed the warning, and the district is unable to fix the lift station soon enough, there could be sewer overflows.

With a bypass system, the sewage would simply go around the lift station and go straight to the sewer plant, thereby giving the district time to solve the lift station problem without inconveniencing customers or risking overflows. This project, as well as some other valve and hardware upgrades, may cost $100,000 to $200,000, although it is too early to tell.
Drop said he would be providing more information about the projects to the board at a future meeting.

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