BATON ROUGE, La. – The South Toledo Bend Water District is investing $2.855 million into converting its existing surface water system into a groundwater system that will improve the quality of drinking water for nearly 2,000 customers, lower its production costs, and allow greater opportunities for the system to expand and share its water with neighboring systems in emergency situations.
The district obtained the funding through an affordable loan from the state’s Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund (DWRLF) Program, which is managed by the Louisiana Department of Health’s (LDH) Office of Public Health.
“This investment allows this district to look to the future, to provide affordable water for its current customer base and those to come in the future,” said DWRLF Program Manager Joel McKenzie.
South Toledo Bend Water District President Malcolm Franks said the funding will be invested in three phases. The first phase is to install two new groundwater wells, add a ground storage tank and high-service pumps with variable frequency drives, replace an existing pressure tank, and install a new treatment system for groundwater.
He said engineers are currently drilling the first groundwater well near the district’s main plant, which is located a short distance from the Hwy 191 Fast Stop (at the corner of Highway 191 and Highway 474). He said the well will need to go approximately 800-feet deep to access a good quality fresh water source. The second well will be located nearby.
Franks noted that the treatment system used for surface water plants is not compatible with those treatment products used in purifying groundwater systems.
“Even though we have extra capacity now, we can’t help our neighboring systems because they are all groundwater systems, and we are a surface water system. We cannot mix our products. But when we switch to well water, we will be able to connect into nearby systems,” he said.
The second phase of the district’s improvement plan will include the replacement of an existing ground storage tank at the Beaver Hill and Park Site 15, while the third phase will consist of upgrading various water mains through the distribution system to replace old equipment and to expand distribution to nearby customers.
“Right now, our system services about 2,000 metered customers. Most of those customers live up and down the lakeside, extending east to Highway 191,” he said.
Franks noted that the northern-most area of the district is near the well area, at the intersection of Highway 191 and Highway 474, and runs to the sound end of Toledo Bend Lake, near the dam. The district extends east from the lake, stretching approximately five miles beyond Highway 191 into an area that is mostly timber property with a few residences.
He said the current demand on the system requires production of about 300,000 to 340,000 gallons per day. The two new water wells will each have the capability of producing 700,000 gallons per day.
“We are greatly increasing our capacity, which gives us the potential for growth in the region, and the potential to share our water with nearby systems that may need assistance or serve as a back-up for them,” Franks said.
Franks noted that the South Toledo Bend Water District began looking at ways to improve the district several years ago, but the board determined that an upgrade or refurbishment of the existing system was not good for long-term viability.
“Right now, we manage a surface water system. The average cost of providing customers with safe, drinkable water from our surface water system is $10.86 per 1,000 gallons, whereas the average cost of producing safe, drinkable water from a groundwater system is $3 per 1,000 gallons,” he said.
“The math made sense. Rather than spend nearly $1.5 million on improving our existing system, which was already costing our customer three-times more for water, we opted to invest $2.85 million into changing to a groundwater system that is more cost-efficient, produces a better-quality drinking water, and allows us to greatly expand our capacity,” Franks said.
He said customers currently pay a flat $30 rate plus $6 per 1,000 gallons of usage.
“As you can see, our per-gallon rate is actually well below our production costs, so we are having to reach into the flat rate revenue just to cover production expenses. That’s not counting maintenance issues and the need to make improvements or expansions,” Franks said. “It is our hope that the new system will put us on a stronger financial footing for the future.”
He said the district plans to maintain its current customer rates to help pay off the DWRLF loan in a reasonable time. After that time, he said district managers will evaluate actual production costs and maintenance needs and determine if rates can be lowered.
The South Toledo Bend Water District and LDH closed on the DWRLF loan last month. All loan projects are approved based upon a priority ranking system. Among other factors, projects that address the most serious risks to human health and those that ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act are given the highest priority, according to McKenzie.
Congress established State Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund Programs in 1996 as part of the amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The program is jointly funded by an annual grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (80 percent) and the individual participating states (20 percent). In Louisiana, it is administered by LDH’s Office of Public Health.
“Safe drinking water is fundamental to community health, and this program helps communities throughout Louisiana keep their water as safe as possible without placing an undue burden in the form of expensive financing,” said Louisiana Department of Health Chief Engineer Amanda Ames.
Ames said loans made through the DWRLF program are low interest and have up to a 30-year repayment period. Both public and privately-owned community and nonprofit, non-community water systems are eligible to apply for loans. As systems pay back the loans, the principal and interest are used to make more money available for other communities that have drinking water needs.
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