New water storage tank needed, study says (10/1/09)

Cost may be shared with water district

Oct. 1, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A rusting water storage tank built when Lyndon Johnson was president could be torn down and replaced with one big enough to keep water smoothly flowing to homes and businesses for the next 20 years.

That’s the conclusion of a study of Williston’s water supply system. During last week’s Selectboard meeting, a consultant hired by the town and a representative from the Champlain Water District presented the study, which outlines improvements that would add more than 300,000 gallons of storage capacity.

Williston, like other Chittenden County municipalities, is served by CWD, which draws water from Lake Champlain. But to maintain consistent pressure, water is stored in tanks before flowing to taps.

The town has three tanks. The one off Tower Lane near the Interstate 89 rest stops, built in 1968, needs expensive repairs. So CWD is instead considering replacing it with a new tank at a different site — with the town’s financial help.

“We’re playing with the numbers to try to see what benefits both parties,” Dick Pratt, chief engineer for the water district, told the Selectboard.

Because of the expense of fixing the old tank, it may make more sense to tear it down and replace it with a bigger one that would add enough capacity to serve Williston until 2028, he said.

A study by the Essex Junction-based engineering firm Forcier Aldrich & Associates recommended as the preferred alternative a new tank tucked away on a wooded site along Amber Lane, which is off Old Stage Road. Other sites considered were along Ledgewood Drive and Gov. Chittenden Road, as well as at the old tank’s location.

Additional capacity is needed to accommodate anticipated growth over the next couple of decades, the study said. New developments are in the pipeline, most notably Finney Crossing, a 356-unit residential and commercial development just east of Taft Corners.

More storage capacity won’t come cheap. Including upgrades to pipes and pumps, it will cost about $1.2 million to replace the Tower Lane tank with a new 652,000-gallon tank, the study said. Another option is to fix the old tank and build a new 350,000-gallon tank next to it for a total cost of $975,000.

Local municipalities have traditionally shared the infrastructure costs associated with supplying water to residents, said Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden. The town in the past paid for capacity upgrades such as water tanks, then turned ownership over to CWD, which is then responsible for their upkeep.

The study suggests that the town and CWD could share the cost this time, with the water district putting some of the money it would have spent repairing the old tank toward the new tank.

In any case, revenue from municipal property taxes would not be used to fund the project, Boyden said. Instead, funding would come mainly from sewer connection fees paid by developers when new homes or commercial buildings are built.

The town and the water district have for some time wondered what to do with the old elevated storage tank, which Pratt called the “black sheep” of CWD’s system.

The old tank could continue to be maintained indefinitely, said Wayne Elliott, Forcier Aldrich & Associates vice president.

“It just depends on how much money you want to put into it,” he said.

The study showed that it would cost more than $500,000 to completely restore the tank. Minimal repairs priced at about $100,000 would extend its life by five to seven years.

The town is now just shy of the amount of storage capacity required by the state. Williston must keep one day’s worth of water in storage to serve residents and business, plus enough to fight fires. About 52,000 gallons of additional storage is needed in the so-called “high service area” to meet the requirement, according to the study.

The urgency of dealing with the capacity issue has lessened due to the recession, Elliot said, with water use by businesses down and the pace of new development slowing. But he thinks within the next two to three years Williston’s storage capacity will become a “much more critical” issue.

No decision was made by the Selectboard. Boyden said the town should move as soon as possible to strike an agreement with the owner of the Amber Lane property lest it lose the site.