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An investigation looking for leaks in the Basin water system found only one, according to a recent series of tests by American Leak Detection out of Idaho.

The leak, at 122 Basin St., was likely in the service line or the curb stop valve, according to the report.

In all, the report listed 25 sites tested within the community and the work cost $1,910.

The results were reported at the March 9 Basin Water and Sewer Board meeting, as well as how much it would cost to have an audit conducted and water meters installed.

The Board is doing its due diligence by collecting this information, said Board Chairperson MJ Williams.

Leaks, water meters and most recently, a request for an audit, have all been concerns raised by opponents to the Board’s plan to make improvements to the system and pay for those improvements with a loan.

Opponents of the updates have called what has been perceived as numerous leaks be fixed before any upgrades are done.

Board member Mike Jellison said American Leak Detection also checked all the fire hydrants, as well as the curb stop at Merry Widow and all was quiet — meaning no leaks were detected — except for the one at 122 Basin Street.

Williams said it was difficult to find many of the curb stops when the testing was conducted due to being covered with ice and snow. However, if there was water loss going on at that point in the line, it could still be detected, she said.

One reason for installing meters is to detect excess water usage — a situation that has plagued the Basin system for some time and has led to added operational costs.

Lynora Rogstad with Midwest Assistance Program explained that a leak detector does not find leaks originating within a home or on private property.

Midwest Assistance Program Inc. assists rural drinking water, wastewater and solid waste utilities in finding solutions to their infrastructure needs. MAP is contracted by the state of Montana to provide free assistance to small and rural water systems and Basin has worked with the organization for years.

The leak detector finds leaks between the curb stop and the service line, said Rogstad, adding that the only way to find leaks in a home is by metering water usage.

Leaks can account for nearly 10,000 gallons of water in an average home every year — the amount of water it takes to wash 300 loads of laundry, according to the Montana Public Service Commission.

Water meters

Earlier in the meeting, Williams provided information from Great West Engineering on how much it would cost to install water meters and replace the service lines. When the meter pits are installed, the aging curb stops would be removed, according to the report.

It would cost about $1,800 to install each meter pit, and another $50 per foot for the service line replacement, with asphalt being an additional cost.

The service lines have likely reached the end of their service life and many of the curb stops are inoperable and/or leaking, according to the report.

Former clerk and operator Nissa Manley had estimated that the system has 103 active curb stops and 84 are failing. Curb stops are the valves used to turn on and off water service.

Rogstad said there are two ways to read the meters — a remote read outside the house that is recorded by the water operator. The other method is a radio read, which feeds information to the system for billing purposes and does not require an operator to go from house to house.

Williams said the meter information was an exploration process by the Board, and if implemented, would be covered by the loan.

The Board’s original project, unveiled in early 2020, and which had led to the ongoing controversy, has evolved quite a bit from then.

The Board had been pursuing a $392,000 loan from the state, with half to be forgiven, which was to pay for the water meters, as well as putting the Quartz Avenue pump house back online. The latter portion of the project has since been shelved, but the Board has long contended that water meters are a necessary tool, not only to detect leaks at the property level, but also to aid in obtaining financing in the future for larger repairs and replacements on the aging system. That particular type of loan, however, did not require that water meters be installed.

Originally, the Board had adjusted water rates to meet any debt service requirements from the state loan, but later rescinded the controversial $12 fee charged to lots without a curb stop.

The plan to put the Quartz Avenue pump house back online was ultimately shelved after the Board’s engineer suggested a system-wide assessment might be more useful, and in December, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality found that the well had lead packer — a fix too expensive to pursue.

The Board needs to explore these options so it knows what is best for the system, said Williams.

Great West also recommended that the Board look at state grant funding to pay for a preliminary engineering report for the entire system. The Board could likely secure a $20,000 to $30,000 grant to pay for all or part of the PER, estimated at $30,000. If the Board decided to pursue this option, the PER could be completed by fall and identify any other issues with the system, according to the report.

The Board had previously been working off a 2018 technical memorandum which focused on specific issues and not the totality of the system.

When opponents questioned the Board’s assessment of the condition of the curb stops and service lines at the March 9 meeting, Jellison and Williams suggested they hire an engineering firm themselves to look at the system and see what they find out.

“Do a little research and see what you come up with,” said Jellison.

“Come back with information that tells us we’re dead wrong,” said Williams.

Audit

Recently, the Board had agreed to obtain quotes for an audit of the District’s books, going back to 2015 — and this was at the request of a resident.

Board member Joy Lewis said she had talked with Strom and Associates of Helena, as well as Pat Burt with Newland and Company of Butte about fulfilling that request.

Strom and Associates estimated it would cost about $9,625 per audited year, pushing the cost for those six years to more than $57,000, according to Lewis.

Lewis said Burt offered a free consultation, and suggested working on compliance and control issues before doing an audit.

Jellison favored the second option, as did District Water and Sewer Operator and Clerk Serina Eckman, who thought it would be more effective to have a system in place before attempting an audit.

New Board member

There will be no direct election for the Basin Water and Sewer Board in May because the number of individuals who filed is not greater than the number of slots on the Board.

Brian Gasch will no longer be serving on the board due to a new job, and Mike Jellison, who was appointed last year, did not apply by the deadline, according to Board member Joy Lewis.

Dede Rhodes will take Jellison’s slot beginning in May, and the Board will have to advertise for, and appoint, someone to take Gasch’s position, said Lewis

In all, the Board is composed of five members.

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