Ranchos invested millions into water system in 2015 (January 25, 2016)

‘Why now?’ town official asks

APPLE VALLEY — The Apple Valley Ranchos Water Co. invested more than $8 million into its water system in 2015, and the company expects to invest a comparable amount into the system’s aging infrastructure this year, according to Superintendent of Operations Carol Thomas-Keefer.

More than half of the $8 million invested went to replacement and upgrades to water pipes throughout Ranchos’ 50-square-mile service area.

Much of the Ranchos systems of pipes were installed in the 1950s and 1960s, Thomas-Keefer said, and need to be replaced to ensure the ongoing reliability of water service for our customers.

The investment — made amid the town’s attempt to acquire the system through eminent domain — was called into question last week by Assistant Town Manager Marc Puckett, who told the Daily Press he doesn’t believe the investments are a coincidence.

It’s interesting that Ranchos has announced their spending $8 million this year and last year, Puckett said. Why suddenly are these improvements now necessary? That suggests, possibly, that the system has not been maintained over the years. Why now? I don’t think that’s a coincidence that suddenly now there are improvements.

Puckett said he believes the company’s investments are a strategic move on the part of Ranchos to make acquisition of Ranchos less attractive and more difficult for the town.

This is the same tactic they used with Mountain Water in Missoula (Montana), Puckett said. It’s very common. What will ultimately happen is a judge will decide whether or not the improvements were necessary, and if a judge decides that they weren’t, the town would not have to reimburse Ranchos for those improvements.

Ranchos General Manager Tony Penna, however, said the investments speak to the reality of running an effective water system.

The systems don’t stay static for long periods of time, he said. You’re either improving something that’s aged or you’re not keeping up in my opinion.

Despite his opinion on Ranchos’ motives, Puckett said the town could spend a similar amount on infrastructure improvements should eminent domain action prove successful.

Absolutely the town would be prepared to spend money for capital improvements pursuant to a capital improvement plan, Puckett said.

Puckett added that if the town acquires Ranchos’ water system, the immediate elimination of taxes, profits and intra-company service agreements would allow the town enough money not only to pay for improvements, but to lower rates as well.

All those things combined total $10 to $14 million above the cost of water, Puckett said. And those costs would be immediately eliminated upon the town’s acquisition.

Puckett said corporate administration costs would also be eliminated.

(The town) can reduce the rates, pay for all necessary capital improvements and pay the debts on the acquisition bonds (with that money), and still have sufficient reserves to operate the system, he said.

Sections replaced in 2015 included portions of pipe along Nanticoke Road, Seneca Road and Rincon Road, as well as throughout the Desert Knolls area of Apple Valley, according to a statement released by the company.

More than 6 miles of aging and leak-prone steel pipes of various sizes were replaced with poly vinyl chloride — or PVC — pipe and ductile iron pipe.

Ranchos’ pipe replacement program identifies and prioritizes pipes based on significant leak history, and each year targets the highest priority areas for replacement, according to the company.

Penna told the Daily Press many factors — including soil conditions and acidity levels — are analyzed by Ranchos engineers before the right kind of replacement pipe is selected, which wasn’t the case in the early days of the town’s history.

The old steel pipe comes from the origin of the water company going back to the 1940s … and steel pipe is not the best material for our (desert) conditions, Penna explained. It has a finite lifetime of probably 60 years. A lot of it has been replaced, but we still have a good amount of it in the ground.

The company said that in addition to completing its new Well 35 project — at a cost of more than $2 million dollars — several main replacement projects are slated for 2016 that will replace a portion of the remaining steel pipe Penna mentioned.

The main replacement projects will include the installation of about 3,500 feet of ductile iron pipe along Mandan Road. The next phases of the Rincon Road project, which will bring the replacement of 1 mile of aging steel pipe with a 20-inch transmission line and the installation of 2,700 feet of new 16-inch pipe along Kiowa Road north of Del Oro Road are also slated, the company said.

Thomas-Keefer said investments into the system’s infrastructure minimizes leaks and repairs and helps the company move water more efficiently.

That helps lower our operating costs, said Thomas-Keefer. As we undertake projects, we routinely use local service providers for design, construction, and installation.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press