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3/18/2014 10:28:00 AM
Williams City Council approves building permit freeze during level four water crisis
Hotel development, Love's Travel Stop and wood processing site projects allowed to proceed under revision to city code

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - The majority of new building permits in Williams will have to wait until the water crisis is over.

The city will only issue building permits under three limited circumstances during the current level four water restrictions.

Williams City Council members unanimously approved Ordinance No. 940 to amend the section of the city code pertaining to water related emergencies at their March 13 meeting.

The previous city code restricted the issuance of all commercial and residential building permits during level four water restrictions. The amended code allows for three exceptions: if the council has already granted a water allocation and the impact fees have already been paid, if the construction will not have any new fixture units connected to the city's potable water supply, and if the permit application was submitted and in process before the city implemented level four water restrictions.

"It's not about asking new buildings and construction to come in and give us those impact fees, it's only if those impact fees have already been paid," said City Attorney Kellie Peterson. "We can't justify adding new connections except in these circumstances."

A few major projects planned for Williams will be allowed to proceed based on the three exceptions included in the new ordinance, according to City Manager Brandon Buchanan.

"We tried to write those so that the projects that we've been dealing with and some of the economic development projects we've been working with for at least a year now are still going to be able to build their projects," Buchanan said.

A hotel project planned for Seventh Street near the former Winchester Steakhouse would be located on a property that has already received a water allocation from the city. Officials with the project have also started paying impact fees on the property already, so the project can proceed under the first exception.

Good Earth Power announced on March 12 it would build a site to accept logs and fiber from forest thinning under the Four Forest Restoration Initiative in Williams. Although officials have not disclosed the location of the site, Buchanan said the location in question is not accessible by the city's water system and is therefore acceptable under the second exception.

Officials with the Love's Travel Stop planned for Grand Canyon Boulevard north of Interstate 40 already had their permits submitted when the water restrictions went into effect, so it will be able to move forward under the third exception.

The city also amended the code to allow for some watering of city property and other properties used for recreation programs, including the parks, golf courses, and baseball fields. The previous code prohibited the use of potable water for irrigation during level four water restrictions. Under the revised code, city staff may water those areas according to the guidelines laid out under the level three water restrictions. Those restrictions stipulate the areas can't be watered more than two times per week and the watering must take place between certain times on certain days. The city properties may be watered under level three restrictions until the city manager decides it is no longer in the best interest of the city to do so.

Possible sources of water and revenue

During the meeting, city staff updated the council on what they are doing to investigate potential new water sources.

Water Superintendent James Courchaine said on March 14, the Rodeo Well would be videotaped to determine if it is usable. That step will take about two to three days. After that, the city will start pumping water from the well to test the water. It will cost about $100,000 to mobilize and demobilize the pump and about $80,000 to run the pump for 30 days.

Mayor John Moore told the council that earlier that day he had gone to Phoenix with Councilman Don Dent, Buchanan and Peterson to meet with the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

"I felt a lot better when we left that meeting with the assurances of the director, a guy named Mike Lacey, that he was willing to try to help us," Moore said.

Lacey told the Williams officials that he would help set up a meeting with Salt River Project officials.

While in Phoenix, the Williams officials also had a meeting with the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona to discuss the possibility of applying for grants to help pay for a solution to the water crisis.

Moore added that the city has contacted some state legislators to let them know about the water situation and that the city might need some help.

The council also discussed the water meter replacement program at the meeting. After the city tested 21 residential meters, officials found that three registered within the acceptable range and 18 did not. Those 18 meters were under registering the amount of water used by between zero and 80 percent, which came out to an average of about 28 percent.

By using that percentage to estimate what the rest of the city's roughly 1,000 residential meters are reading, water staff estimates the city is losing about $300,000 per year from the inaccurate meters.

Courchaine said new water meters cost about $175 each, although the price may be less if the city replaces a larger number of meters at a time. Water meters have about a 10-year life expectancy before they start under registering the way they are now.

Buchanan estimated it might cost in the $1 million range to replace all of the city's meters, both commercial and residential. He added that the difficult part for the city would be to determine how to pay for that, with some potential options being rate increases or specific fees for meter replacement on water bills.

Buchanan described paying for the meter replacement program as a chicken-and-egg situation.

"We don't want to raise rates, but we know we need to make more money. And one of the ways to make a significant amount of new money would be to actively bill for the water that's being used," he said. "So we have to come up with that money somewhere."

Moore instructed staff to proceed with putting together the meter replacement plan.

Courchaine said he probably would not have any bids ready for a few weeks because they would require discussion with the different companies.

Councilman Lee Payne said the city must prioritize which water-related projects to complete first.

"It's alarming how bad our infrastructure is when it comes to water to me," Payne said.

Courchaine responded by saying the meter replacement program was an important issue.

"It's your cash register-you have to fix that to bring in money," he said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Article comment by: J S

Someone should look around for leaks as well while out walking today my friend and I ended up at the top of a hill behind Bearazona There appears to be a leak from some sort of water system back there and its running down the hill.

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