The St. Maries City Council voted to approve a resolution that states the city’s intent to no longer issue new water service connections outside the corporate limits of the city Jan. 9.
The council voted 5-1 to approve the resolution that “suspends new water service outside the corporate limits of the city, until such a time that the city is able to establish whether it has the capability of providing such new water service.”
Councilman Steve Dorendorf was the dissenting vote. Ed Spooner, Laci Hanson, Randy Saunders, Doug Ryan and Sabrina Powell voted in favor of the measure.
The council originally enacted a moratorium, which went into effect March 14, 2022, for 180 days to suspend new water permits for connections outside city limits.
“That was based upon a recommendation by HMH Engineering,” City Attorney Andy Doman said. “We needed to curtail water because of the possibility of running out… the council entertained a motion to put that into place.”
Since that time, Doman said there have been serious concerns about the city’s ability to provide water due to numerous reasons and some tough questions.
Doman said at the time of the moratorium he was not aware of a measure in city code that gives the city council the ability to decide whether or not the city will extend services outside of the corporate limits.
“The wording in the resolution is to suspended new water services outside corporate limits of the city…it is based upon the authority granted under the ordinance,” Doman said.
A copy of the full resolution is available from city hall. After Doman presented it, Mayor Tom Carver opened the floor up to the councilmen to make comments and ask questions.
Dorendorf said he believed whether a connection is granted or not should be done on a case-by-case basis, and the decision should be made by the city council.
“That’s how I’ve always felt about it, and I’m sticking to it,” Dorendorf said.
Ryan said he is not an expert on the subject, but he said he’s listened to enough people who are and he does have concerns about the city’s ability to maintain services to existing users if new connections are allowed outside city limits.
“As an elected member of the city, I think we need to do everything we can to make sure water is available for those on the system,” Ryan said. “And so, with that, while I feel for those outside city limits who would like to get on the system, our responsibility is to current users.”
Ryan said he cannot see adding users outside city limits until existing problems are fixed.
The problems with the city’s water system were greatly detailed in an article published in the Nov. 2, 2022 issue of the Gazette Record titled “City Stops ‘Will Serves.’”
Essentially, the city’s wells, which are for emergency use only, are coming on too much. This could be happening for a number of reasons.
The contact/chlorination chamber at the water treatment plant has to stay at a certain level in order to give the water enough time to be disinfected. When the demand rises, and water starts to move from the tanks faster than the water treatment plant can refill them, the wells kick on.
One of the problems involves a decline in the filter rate at the water treatment plant in the sand beds. This could be happening for several reasons. First, as the sand filters build up media, they are not able to filter at the typical rate they would. Declining head pressure in the filter beds is another factor. Finally, onsite observations and measurements indicate the filters lack approximately 1,100 cubic yards of sand.
Another concern, which was also outlined in the report completed by HMH Engineering when the city first put the moratorium in place, is Rochat Creek’s ability to supply water to the treatment plant.
Last year, during the drought, city personnel witnessed water from the creek failing to crest the intake and enter the transmission line to the plant.
Even though 2021 was dry in regards to precipitation, the lack of supply from Rochat Creek to the treatment plant is concerning when considering future growth. Water wasn’t flowing over the dam in October 2022 like it has in the past.
When the dam gets low, another issue is the system brings in water, and then air, water and then air, which is called cavitating. This creates air pockets, which can cause pipes to burst.
Illegal connections and leaks also put stress on the system.
During the discussion Monday night, Carver also said since the city started putting water outside city limits, the city is now in class two license requirements. He said the city was informed of this last week.
“That’s another can of worms,” he said, adding none of the city crew has a class two license.
Spooner said he agreed with both Ryan and Dorendorf. He said the city receives a lot of calls when the wells go online. The wells are not chlorinated. Spooner also voiced concerns about the need for water for fire suppression and said in the past it has not been available.
Saunders said the council’s primary responsibility is to serve city residents. He said you might read what the capacity is of the system on paper, but with the issues that need resolved they are “nowhere near that.”
He added he did not think it would be a good idea for the council to take on requests on a case-by-case basis.
“I think that could be a really difficult situation. You can have accusations of bias or discrimination of some kind when you start saying you can have it, but you can’t,” Saunders said. “That might create more of a problem than just saying we can’t do any more outside city limits.”
Public Works Director Skyler Harrison said it is hard to keep an eye on the whole system and identify leaks. He said while meters are a “sore subject” they would be of great help when it comes to maintaining the system.
No source of sand has been identified. Carver said DEQ would be looking at some in Sandpoint to determine if it meets gradation requirements.
At one point during the discussion, a member of the audience asked how the city would define new. Carver said it was not the time for public comment.