Water company plans big upgrade

editor@sierrastar.comJune 26, 2013 

After a mandate from the State Health Department and eight years of planning including an extensive feasibility study, the Bass Lake Water Company is preparing to move forward with a new, modern microfiltration water treatment plant and related facilities to serve nearly 1,000 service connections.

Before the $4 million construction project can begin, The Bass Lake Ranger District of the Sierra National Forest is seeking public comments on the proposal to authorize the water company, under a new Forest Service special use permit, to construct the plant off North Shore Road (432), directly west of the Willow Creek Bridge at the west end of the lake. The proposed building site is on 1.5 acres, on the former site of the Falls Resort parking lot.

According to a letter sent to interested parties by David Martin, district ranger, the water company is seeking a new 30 year special use permit that would allow the company to construct the new plant on National Forest land, as well as decommissioning the out-dated existing plant.

The project was analyzed in 2009 under the National Environmental Policy Act and the project received a 'Categorical Exclusion' for a detailed study of the project from Martin in November, 2010. But earlier this year, upon conducting the 'Categorical Exclusion' analysis, Forest Service officials at the regional level determined an Environmental Assessment would be required for the project.

"We encourage public participation in our scoping process," Martin said in his letter.

Steve Welch, president of the water company, said the current water treatment plant is 29 years old and related facilities, including the water intake line, are more than 60 years old.

"The Angel Falls intake line to the existing treatment plant has had leaks over the years and is subject to failure," Welch said. "A new, modern plant is needed to comply with current water supply permits and California Department of Public Health codes and provide quality water for current and future water company customers."

Welch said that sudden loss of water from a rupture in the intake pipe would leave customers without reliable drinking water and fire protection once distribution storage reservoirs are drained, further explaining that the existing plant does not comply with current water supply permits and California Department of Public Health codes.

"The new plant will provide a sufficient and reliable water source for current and future Bass Lake Water Company customers and would safeguard against major ruptures, fire incidents, and system malfunction."

According to Welch, the feasibility study analyzed replacing the current facility in its present location as well as two others. The proposed location was selected since it required less environmental resource damage than the other two sites.

"It removes the existing intake facilities in the Angel Falls area of the creek thereby reducing erosion on the creek banks and improving the aesthetics of that popular area, safety for the water company operators, and perhaps most importantly, it is located in close proximity to a sewer connection and a high voltage power supply, both of which are requirements for the new treatment process," Welch said.

Welch said the water company has been very sensitive to the visual impact of the project.

"We are locating the improvements toward the back of the site with plans to screen the improvements from view with both native and additional landscaping as needed," Welch said.

The plant construction has not qualified for any state grants, although the water company is communicating with state health department officials in hopes of receiving grant funds. Any grants the water company would receive would lower the amount needed from a bank loan. Welch said the project will necessitate a future rate increase which will require Public Utilities Commission approval.

Specifically, the project is being done to comply with the state's Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Regulation that became effective in 2005.

Bass Lake resident Diane Marks feels the "industrial" project is not appropriate in a residential/recreational area, so close to the Falls Beach.

Marks and other members of the Bass Lake community are circulating a petition calling for the new plant to be "located upstream where the public use for water recreation is less frequent."

Beverly Fleming, who lives in the Bay Area and owns a cabin at the lake, feels many residents of the area were not aware of the project and feels adequate notice was not circulated previously for residents to give input.

She said she was attending a small meeting with PG&E officials about two years ago, when the discussion led to the lack of parking at the Falls Beach.

"I mentioned why not re-do the old Falls Resort parking lot and was told that location was going to be used for the water company's new water treatment plant," Fleming said.

Fleming said she is concerned that large numbers of people play in the water in Willow Creek where a screened water intake pipe will be located.

"Human activity around a drinking water source is not a good idea," Fleming said. "I would rather see the plant upstream and use the 1.5 acre site for parking to relieve the congestion at the Falls Beach."

Existing condition

The original special use permit was issued in 1960 for the water treatment plant and has continually been under permit since. The existing permit allows the water company to use National Forest Service lands to operate and maintain a public water system for the community of Bass Lake.

The existing plant consists of one diversion dam, two redwood settling tanks (2,800 gallons each), four metal storage tanks, a chlorination plant, 8,494 feet of waterlines, and service roads. The grand total of existing facilities takes up about three acres.

The water company obtains its water through exercising its state appropriated water rights of 355-acre feet (115 million gallons) per year from Willow Creek. Current facilities, including three ground water wells, provide sufficient water for the system, but the present treatment plant for 'surface' water from Willow Creek does not comply with current regulatory standards.

The existing water system would be decommissioned and the ground would be returned to its natural state.

Proposed project

The plan for the new water treatment plant includes a 4,000 square-foot metal treatment building, one 5,000 gallon raw water tank, one 21,000 gallon finished water tank, one 200 square-foot water pump station building, one 200 square-foot raw water pump station building, about 1,000 feet of pipelines, and a 10-stall parking lot.

The plan calls for the construction of about 750 feet of fencing comprised of a combination of wire, wood and concrete blocks that would be approximately six feet tall around the permitted area.

The removal of small to medium diameter trees, averaging approximately 14 inches, and shrubs on project site will be required, although trees along Road 432 would be retained for visual purposes.

Archaeological, hydrological, biological, botanical, visual, and soil resources having to do with the project have been analyzed to determine appropriate resource protection measures for the project.

Proposed Forest Service action

Based on the purpose and need, the Bass Lake Ranger District proposes the following actions:

Issue a 30 year Special Use Permit. A new permit would require an Operations and Management Plan that must be followed by the water company to remain in compliance.

Decommission and removal of the existing water treatment plant, with the exception of an existing water storage tank that would contain back-fed treated water from the new water treatment plant. All rehabilitation techniques would follow appropriate resource protection measures.

The original Forest Service 'Categorical Exclusion' spells out a number of resource protection measures the water company must adhere to during project construction covering archaeology, aquatic and land wildlife and botany. No Forest Service sensitive or federally listed threatened or endangered plant species were identified in the project area.

Welch expects the permit to be issued in the fall, with construction to begin in early summer 2014, and completed in mid-2015. The existing facilities would then be removed over a two year period.

July 9 deadline for comments

Detailed information on the project can be received by calling the Bass Lake Ranger District office at (559) 877-2218.

Comments, due by Tuesday, July 9, may be submitted to Dean Gould, forest supervisor, c/o Henry Herrera, assistant district lands officer, Bass Lake Ranger District, 57003 Road 225, North Fork, Calif., 93643; email, comments-pacificsouthwest-sierra@fs.fed.us., fax (559) 877-3108, or by phone, (559) 877-2218.

Comments may also be hand delivered to the Bass Lake Ranger District office in North Fork, at the address above between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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