Currently, the Talkeetna Sewer and Water System is operating at a six-figure annual deficit, according to a draft report by CRW Engineering Group. CRW was contracted by the Mat-Su Borough to assess the system with $100,000 allocated by the state legislature last year. The idea is to get a picture of the current state of the system, which was installed in the 1980s, as well as to look at the financial status. In all, there are hundreds of pages of raw data in addition to the report itself.
CRW Engineering did two separate assessments, one for sewer and one for water. On the operational side, they found that the water treatment and distribution system does have some issues, but that the system is working well, and has some room for growth in usage. One of the larger issues that was pointed out is the inability of the current backup generator to supply both well pumps. Normally, that isn’t an issue, but if there was a sudden, dramatic spike in usage during a power outage, say, in the event of a fire hydrant opening, the pumps might not be able to keep up. The borough was already aware of the issue, and has begun looking for funding for a more powerful generator.
The sewer system has more significant issues. The sewer treatment lagoon is not operating the way it was intended. A test in May showed that water flowing out of the lagoons was within parameters, but earlier tests in 2011 and 2013 showed levels of fecal coliform well above acceptable levels. The report gives a few potential reasons for the inadequate treatment. The most obvious to a casual observer is the lack of vegetation. The lagoon is designed to use plant life to help filter waste out of the water. Most of that vegetation was washed away by the 2006 flood. Additionally, the report shows that the system may be getting short-circuited. The result is that wastewater is not spending the minimum amount of time being treated, as mandated by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The borough has also begun looking into money to revegetate the sewer lagoon, and the short-circuiting might be fixable without significant expenditure.
The draft also talks about finances. It says that both systems are operating at a deficit, and neither has a repair and replacement account. That means that any emergency repairs would involve an adjustment to the borough budget. One analysis in the draft looks at what consumer rate changes would be necessary to break even, assuming the current rate structure. Under that scheme, residential water and sewer would go from about $91 per month to $138 per month. While that is a big jump, the report also says that it’s not far off the average. CRW obtained data for twenty-seven communities with fewer than 1,000 residents. The average residential water rate among communities was about $130. Andrea Meeks, who oversaw the assessment, says that the figure in the draft is not the only option, however. She says that CRW plans to include alternative rate structures once the report is finalized.
Andrea Meeks says that CRW is also planning a public meeting to discuss the findings in Talkeetna. Details are not final as of yet, but the current plan is for later this month.