Winter damage at treatment plant holds up the show

Diana Jorgenson
Portola Editor

     The Lake Davis Treatment Plant was supposed to begin water testing in June and be online for the city of Portola in August. That was June and August of last year, not this year.  

A year later, water testing and the first flushes of water down the pipeline have not begun, halted by frozen pipes, cracked pumps and valves that didn’t make it through that first cold spell in December.


    In a city manager’s report in April, Jim Murphy said the Army Corps of Engineers had declared it significantly complete in December.

    Prior to that, Plumas County Flood Control District, who owns the treatment plant and has a contract with the Department of Water Resources (owners of the pipeline) to maintain the pipeline, asked the city to take over maintenance of the plant right away rather than when the plant was officially turned over to the city. The main reason for that was to establish propane, electrical and Internet accounts in the city’s name.

    In retrospect, that was probably a bad idea, Murphy admitted, since the transition allowed the contractor to slip away before everything was signed off.

    There are a number of things not completed to the satisfaction of the city and the county, not that unusual at the completion of a construction project.

    There are a number of things, such as paving and fencing that were not part of the ACOE bid and are still the responsibility of the flood control district.

    But that nasty cold spell and its attendant damage in December really halted progress for the rest of the long winter. The damage is not to the treatment plant itself, but to an outside pumping station situated by the flushing ponds. The outside pipes had insufficient heat tape and the heater supplied to the unit structure turned out to be inadequate. Both pumps were damaged and check valves cracked.

    ACOE and the contractor dispute whether it was a design problem or construction defect, but either way, the ACOE is ultimately responsible for both.

    Brian Morris, general manager for the Plumas County Flood Control District, said, “There really isn’t anything for us to do at this point. The warranties don’t begin until the plant is completed and turned over to us.”

    He reported the ACOE sent an engineer to the plant last week, after repeated requests by the county.

    “We told them that we need to get this done. It’s summer and peak usage time. The city’s had to go on rationing in the past, and we don’t want that to happen this summer,” Morris said.

    Once the pumping station is operational, the remaining pipeline testing can resume. Morris said the pipeline has been tested and maintenance completed except at the very end by the city’s water tank.

    “There’s a pressure reducing and flow control station that we completely rebuilt. To test that, which is tied in to the city’s system so it can be remotely controlled, we have to have the plant operational so we can generate water into the pipeline,” Morris explained.

    There is a leak. City staff has monitored the water in the tank and the water level has been dropping. The pipeline is in approximately 30 sections and the first step will be to isolate the section where the leakage is occurring.

    Meanwhile, the city is concerned about what it will cost to operate and maintain the plant. The estimates prepared by Sig Hanson, plant designer, have already proven inadequate. After the city received a $15,000 heating bill, Murphy declared costs might end up two or three times the original estimates.

    Operation of the plant might run about $285,000 per year, perhaps to $300,000, Murphy said in his manager’s report to the city council.

    Grizzly Lake Resort Improvement District, for its part, decided costs in that range would double rates in its district, and General Manager Frank Motzkus thought residents would vote it down.

    “We are confident that water rate increases between 95 –100 percent will not be approved. GLRID is exploring other sources of drinking water for the Crocker Mountain and Grizzly Retreat residents, and drinking water from the Lake Davis Treatment Plant will not be needed at this time. As such, GLRID will not be negotiating with the city of Portola for drinking water from the Lake Davis Water Treatment Plant,” Motzkus said in an April 7 letter to the city.

    GLRID and the city of Portola do not have a contract. In recent months, the city council and the GLRID board of directors each approved a different version of a contract.

    At the April 28 city council meeting, council members approved their reply to GLRID, agreeing the two entities did not have a valid contract in force and accepting GLRID’s decision.

    “Because GLRID has made this decision, the city has now satisfied any and all of its obligations to GLRID and the Plumas County Flood Control and Irrigation District to treat Lake Davis water for GLRID,” said Murphy in the letter to GLRID.

    The letter continued that if the district changed its mind, it needed to send a written request approved by the board. Then the city “will evaluate whether there is sufficient capacity in the Water Treatment Plant to treat water for GLRID and under what conditions and cost it would do so.”

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