- Editor’s note: I have been hearing and seeing much discourse by city officials, city council members, and citizens on social media sites about water issues in Yelm, that I decided to go directly to the source, Pubic Works Director Cody Colt.
- I found Director Colt to be very transparent, open, clear and concise.
- Key interview questions and his written responses are below:
Yelm Blogger: The city is moving ahead accepting more housing plats and permit applications, and while the city is expecting to get more water rights as Mr. Grayum announced to council Oct. 27th, that is not yet in the city’s hands.
I read that you are going to begin (perhaps have begun) to pump water from the SW1 well and use the new tank. Did I understand that correctly?
I also noted Mayor Foster explaining to customers with high water bills that they are using more water in staying at home during the pandemic.
Therefore, is the city nearing their afy (acre feet per year) usage allocation from DOE?
Director Colt: We have been operating SW well on a weekly basis in order to keep everything functioning. When I came on [as Director, May 1, 2020] this wasn’t the case and it took quite a bit of resources (man hours and money) to get SW well back up and running. In order to prevent that from happening again, we are exercising equipment on a weekly basis, and are permitted to do that through March 2021. Hopefully at that time, we will have new water rights in hand or we will have to apply for an extension to continue operating that well.
You will be happy to know we are still well under our Acre feet per year (afy) usage, we should end the year at about the same total acre feet (usage) as last year. Although June/July were high, the start of the year was lower than in previous years allowing us to have a cushion for those harsh summer months. We are closely monitoring usage though, because as you notice, if construction happens and we do not receive water rights, we will have to make adjustments for future summers to stay under our allocated acre feet per year.
Yelm Blogger: In this beautiful story in Thurston Talk, credit is duly noted for your promotion of Bill Van Buskirk to Treatment Plant Manager, followed by his improving efficiency and reducing costs. The revitalization effort of his team “in their free time to paint, fix valves and take care of issues that haven’t been resolved in years” is laudable. On the surface, these seem to have been easy fixes internally. If so, why was this not done previously (i.e. before your arrival)?
Director Colt: That is a question I can’t really answer. I can tell you that when I came on, there was no system for planned Maintenance in place, and everything being done was retroactive or deferred maintenance making costly repairs and replacements of equipment. One of the first things the team and I did was develop a system and schedule for doing maintenance. This in my mind is the fundamental rule of running any plant or system, the amount of money that can be saved by just doing maintenance is huge. Again, I am unsure why there was no system in place before I came on. But, now we finally have a system in place that is sustainable and trackable, which has already gone a huge way in saving City Tax and Rate Payers quite a bit of money.
Yelm Blogger: If the city is denied the $24 million dollar grant request to help fund the systems remodel, what is the next step?
Director Colt: This right now is my biggest concern, we have a couple of different avenues we can go down. Route 1 would be to go for the Loan/Grant again next year and fix any deficiencies in the Plans/Package that caused us not to be accepted this year and hope we can be accepted next year. Route 2 would be to look for funding in other areas. Ecology is not the only loan/grant option, they just have the best interest rate/grant package we have been able to find so far.
Yelm Blogger: And last, since the systems remodel is awhile off into the future, how can the Public Works water and sewer systems continue to operate and take on more hook-ups from plat and parcel approvals, what with the antiquated systems requiring upgrades?
Director Colt: This is actually one of the easier ones to answer. The WRF [Water Reclamation Facility] system and plant is running much more effectively than it was even a year ago and has the capability to handle our projected growth for the next 3-5 years. We are ahead of the game in regards to our shoreline permit and are going through the motions to increase the flow of Cochrane Park with upgrades (Pending DOE approval). Obviously if growth exceeds expectations, council doesn’t approve the WRF upgrades or are unable to secure funding, steps would need to be taken in the next 5 years to address that. I am hopeful that won’t happen, but I like to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Rather be over prepared in this case.
The water main is continuing to be upgraded and the SE Reservoir is on track to be built in the next 3 years which will help with flows throughout the city. The wells (both SW and Downtown) have the ability to pump more water if/when water rights are granted, so we are good in that aspect. Along with our new Maintenance program, I feel confident in our ability to handle the projected growth in the interim as long as all the other factors come to fruition.
Yelm Blogger: Thank you very much for your clear explanations, Director Colt.