The city of Boulder is closer to deciding how it will spend money it received from the American Rescue Plan Act, planning to put most of it toward repairing a water distribution system that an engineering assessment showed is in need of major repair and improvement.

Boulder City Council President Drew Dawson presented the city's plan for its ARPA funds at a public hearing on Aug. 17, listing four main objectives that the city was looking to use the money for: the city's water system, broadband internet access, a child care facility in Boulder and hiring a grant administrator. City leaders said they hoped to receive feedback on the proposed plan, and that allocations would be formally decided at a future meeting.

The city qualified for $325,940 of ARPA funds through a "formula-based" assessment by the federal government, and will receive the funds in two yearly installments, according to Dawson. The city received the first half the funds in June and will receive the second half in June 2022. In the presentation Dawson put together for the hearing, he outlined a tentative budget for the total that the city will receive between 2021 and 2022. He said the budget was still subject to change depending on whether the city receives any other sources of ARPA funding—and it's dependant on public input.

The plan allocated $20,000 for hiring a grant writer. City leaders have said said at previous council meetings that hiring a grant writer is necessary in order to keep track of all the grant opportunities rolling in through ARPA. The plan also set aside $50,000 for broadband services, but Dawson said that if proposed legislation about partnerships between broadband providers and local government does not surface, these funds could be allocated elsewhere. He said that society is becoming increasingly reliant on the internet, and the city should anticipate this reliance growing. Therefore, Dawson said, it is important to invest in expanded broadband services.

The city recently received $110,000 of county ARPA funds from Jefferson County to purchase and transport a building from Helena to Boulder to use as a child care facility. The city planned to use $15,000 of its own ARPA funds to aid the setup of the facility. Mayor Rusty Giulio said at the hearing that the building could be moved in 30 days.

But the bulk of the money was aimed at water projects.

"Water is golden and it is king," Dawson said while presenting the plan to other councilmembers.

According to Dawson, the city will apply for additional ARPA funds from the state under House Bill 632, which designates ARPA funds for water and sewer projects. The city hopes to receive $281,622. The city planned to use $240,940 of its federal ARPA funds—the remainder of the funds, after the grant writer, broadband and child care had been subtracted—as a match for the state ARPA funds. The large amount of match money would give the city a better chance of receiving competitive grants for the water and sewer projects, Dawson said. 

This would provide a total of $522,562 for water infrastructure projects. 

"It's possible we might get more, or we might get less. If we kick in that additional money from ARPA, we might get additional money from [the state]. We just don't know that yet," Dawson said in an Aug. 23 interview.

Other potential sources of ARPA funding include grants that the city can apply for in 2022, the county's $2.4 million of ARPA funds—$450,000 of which the county tentatively allocated toward water and sewer projects across the county—a federal infrastructure bill that Dawson said might be passed by Congress, and funding from other agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The city is in need of these additional grants, according to a preliminary engineering report issued by civil engineering firm Morrison-Maierle, which estimated that the city would have to spend around $725,000 to $1,654,000 to update its water system's infrastructure.

The report outlined multiple "deficiencies" in the water system.

The city currently uses three wells, and a fourth is disconnected. In Aug. 2020, Well Three was determined to be producing "groundwater under the direct influence of surface water," and Boulder was notified by the state Department of Environmental Quality that it must comply with surface water treatment standards, according to the report. According to city Public Works Director Dennis Wortman, this is because there is an exposed ditch near the well's pump that puts it at risk of contamination.

Because Well Three does not meet DEQ standards, Wells One and Two are being used as the primary water sources for Boulder, the report said, and these two wells alone do not meet "seasonal demands." This is especially true because Well One is losing capacity over time as its pump becomes less efficient, Wortman said. The report said that with expected population growth, demand for water will increase, and the current demand will also likely increase due to leaks in the system and excessive use caused by "unmetered billing." 

The report concluded that the system lacks redundancy because Well Three is no longer a primary well, and that there could be water shortages in "emergency situations"—such as if one of the wells malfunctions or demand increases drastically.

The report suggested six projects, listed in order of importance. 

The first project involved updating the Well Three so it could be reclassified as producing "groundwater," rather than its current status of "groundwater under the direct influence of surface water." That could be accomplished two different ways. The first is to construct a new well with a "pitless pump" and use the existing well house for water treatment. That was the less expensive option and would cost $304,000, according to the report. Alternatively, the report suggested constructing a new well and well house with a vertical turbine pump, which would cost $529,000.

The second most important project was reconditioning Well One and rehabilitating its pump. The report listed reconditioning the well as imperative, and listed three different options for how to deal with the pump. Reconditioning the well and assessing the pump would cost $50,000. Instead of only assessing the pump, repairing it would cost $88,000 and replacing it would cost $125,000. 

The third project involved reconnecting to Well Four. According to the report, doing so requires—at minimum—a pump test, applying for permits, reconditioning the well and then reconnecting it to the city system, which would cost $45,000. However, the well's pump might need to be repaired, which would cost $106,000, or it might need to be replaced, which would cost $144,000. 

The fourth project would resolve issues with the city's water rights, which the report said would cost $25,000. The report also recommended acquiring additional wells, which would involve acquiring a well, testing its pump, acquiring permits, reconditioning the well, installing controls and connecting the well to the city system. This would cost $117,000, according to the report. If a pump needs to be repaired, the project would cost $172,000, and if a pump needs to be replaced, it would cost $216,000. Additionally, if a new well house is needed, the project would cost $514,000, according to the report. 

Ranking sixth, the report suggested installing mobile backup generators for the city's wells. Depending on the type of generator, this project could cost anywhere between $184,000 and $290,000. 

In total, and including water treatment, storage and distribution, all of the improvements to the city's water system could cost the city nearly $2 million, according to the report and Dawson's presentation.

City Councilmember Bear Taylor said that, although there is a large cost upfront, updating the system will "prevent later utility costs," and would put the city in a "better position moving forward."

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