Time for Water District 10 to address problems with water flow to hydrants is now
Wednesday, April 17, 2013 | | 6
An article on the front page of last week’s Picayune and in Monday’s American Statesman with the headline,“Water district says hydrant upgrades would cost millions,” correctly points out that maintaining a water system so that it provides sufficient fire flows and pressures at every fire hydrant is an expensive proposition.
Over the past few decades, Water District 10 has done an admirable job of providing good, clean water to its customers at affordable rates. But as we now know, simply providing tasty water for drinking and watering our yards is not enough. Water for fighting fires is equally important, if not more so – especially if you live in one of the approximately 125 homes (by the district’s count) that is unlucky enough to be near a low-flowing fire hydrant.
Water District 10 recently released an engineering feasibility study that explores the options and costs for improving the fire flows in these high fire risk areas of our city. The district’s engineering firm estimates that the costs will exceed $18.5 million. The accompanying press release and a memo from the district’s Board President Clif Drummond expresses alarm at these high costs and grave concern about the impact of these costs on the district’s tax rate. He questions whether such an investment makes sense because it only “directly benefits” 125 homes. He opines that even high-flowing fire hydrants will do little to stop a Bastrop-like wildfire.
There are so many problems with those statements and the underlying attitude that they reflect that it’s difficult to address them all in this space. I’ll give it a shot.
First, Mr. Drummond has repeatedly claimed that a large wildfire would be impossible to stop. I guess he believes that it’s not worth trying? But more importantly, he continues to overlook a far more likely (and equally deadly) scenario – that a large house fire could catch the surrounding vegetation on fire, resulting in a major wild fire that could devastate our entire community. To claim that these critical water system upgrades would only benefit 125 homes is absurd. If one of those 125 homes catches on fire, and the fire department doesn’t have enough water to contain it, then far more than 125 homes could be destroyed.
The notion that the only way to pay for these infrastructure upgrades would be to raise the district’s tax rate by an alarming amount is equally absurd. The district has many options for funding such upgrades, including the issuance of bond debt, adjustments to water rates, grant funding – or perhaps the district could use some of the $11 million in cash that it has in the bank? Mr. Drummond is clearly trying to portray these cost estimates in the most unflattering light possible in a cynical effort to gather public support against them.
Mr. Drummond tells us that the district has issued more than $7 million in bonds over the past 55 years for capital improvements to upgrade their infrastructure. Although his memo makes it clear that he believes that to be an impressive amount, I conclude otherwise. To me, that number is a clear explanation for why there are significant parts of the WD10 system that have inadequate fire flows. I feel that $7 million over 55 years for a water system the size of theirs is a paltry sum. They simply have not spent enough over the past 30 years to keep their system up to date as larger homes are being constructed in areas where the risk of fire has been steadily increasing.
I believe the district has neglected significant parts of its infrastructure and its responsibilities to provide adequate fire flows to our community. I believe that the district should have been maintaining its hydrants better, and it should have been more focused on the water pressures and flows coming out of those hydrants. But it’s not too late. Fortunately, they now appear to be taking a serious look at the problem. I just hope they move forward quickly to correct the deficiencies – before a single house fire destroys the community we all love.
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