Council digests massive master water plan (November 8, 2023)

BULLHEAD CITY — Mark Clark tried valiantly to condense more than 800 pages of narratives, charts, photographs and other reference material into an hour-long presentation at a Bullhead City Council workshop Tuesday afternoon.

Clark, the city’s first utilities director, gave council the CliffsNotes version of the city’s first water master plan, a document that basically underscored what the city already knew: The water system the city has been operating since Sept. 1, 2021, and has owned since paying EPCOR Water Arizona $100 million in January of 2022, is in need of millions of dollars more in repairs and improvements.

We’re playing catch-up for 20 years of neglect, said Clark, suggesting that EPCOR and previous system owners chose a Band-Aid approach to the water system rather than investing in long-term improvements.

We were really starting behind the 8-ball here, Clark said.

Clark said capital improvements of about $10 million a year — well beyond what the city had expected to budget — will be needed to maintain a good, solid working system.

The good news: Some of that could be grant-funded. The city is hoping to get up to $300 million in federal grants to build two water treatment plants, which would allow the city to use some of its allotment of Colorado River surface water for the city water system that currently is served by 21 wells tapped into underground supplies throughout the city. That groundwater, while at least partly fed by the river, does not count toward the city’s annual allocation from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

That grant would help the city augment its reliance on lower-quality well water and decommission more than a handful of costly, low-producing wells.

The city really does need to find another source of water, Clark said after displaying charts that showed future demand higher than the current system can produce. That is what we need to do to go forward.

Clark said the grant also could fund about $35 million to $40 million of projects on the 10-year capital improvement plan as well as construction of the two treatment facilities.

The bad news: There’s no guarantee the city will receive any grant funding, let alone enough to build two plants. In that case, it will be up to the city to rely heavily on the capital improvement budgeting each year for maintenance and improvement of the water system.

The master plan, begun in March of 2022 and completed in September of this year, was prepared by West Coast Civil at a cost of nearly $1.6 million. Clark said it was significant because none of the previous operators of the water system — or systems — had commissioned a professional engineering study that looked at the condition of the system that includes 300 miles of water lines and related components such as boost stations and storage tanks, demand history and projections for the future growth and recommendations for prioritizing needs for an efficient, cost-effective system.

We knew the system was in bad shape (when the city acquired it), Clark said. In some areas, we didn’t know how bad. But I still think it was a good idea for the city to take it over. I think (EPCOR) would have continued the Band-Aid treatment. Now, we have control and we can create the water system that our residents deserve.

Source: Bill McMillen,