By NATALIE MARTIN
About three months after a handful of customers complained that a Water District 19 project reduced their water pressure, district officials say the problems have been resolved.
“It’s frustrating, but they did address the issue,” said Kathy Wheaton, one islander who saw the water pressure at her home near Quartermaster Harbor drop after District 19 installed pressure-reducing valves (PRVs) throughout its system.
The valve project, which the district began there years ago, was meant to address issues with high water pressure on the outskirts of its service area. District 19 officials say abnormally high pressure in some areas has for years led to leaks in the district’s pipes and in customers’ homes and that many customers have complained.
When a series of new pressure-reducing valves were activated earlier this year, however, at least three island homes saw significant drops in water pressure, and some fire hydrants no longer had adequate pressure.
District officials said that due to Vashon’s hilly terrain, the project was more complex than they and engineers hired for the job originally thought and resulted in the pressure inconsistencies.
“We never knew there were going to be any negative effects,” said Richard Bard, chair of District 19’s board.
After reevaluation by district officials and engineers on the project, the pressure issue in one area was resolved by relocating one of the new valves. At the two other homes, it was discovered that personal pressure-reducing valves installed in those homes long ago had exacerbated the low-pressure situation.
At last week’s board meeting, the district’s general manager, Jeff Lakin, explained that a valve and water filter were removed at the home of Dave Willingham. Willingham says his pressure is now almost back to normal. And the district determined that Tom Trigg, who was most vocal about his concerns, also has an at-home valve blocking his pressure, though it is unknown where the valve is located.
“From my point of view, it’s not anyone else’s problem now. It’s mine now,” Trigg said.
Engineers also recommended that the district install additional PRVs to address some remaining high-pressure areas in the system, but the district is unwilling to put more funds into the project, Lakin said.
Bob Powell, a District 19 board member, said he is glad the pressure issues are resolved, but he expressed disappointment with how the project turned out, and particularly that the cost of installing the valves doubled throughout the process, from $120,000 to $250,000. Ten percent of the project’s total was from added engineering and work done after the pressure issues were discovered.
Money for the project came out of the district’s capital budget, which is funded by the sale of new water shares. Powell says he believes the district and the engineers could have handled the project better and perhaps should have gotten another opinion before moving forward.
“We’ve learned to take a far closer look at this type of project before moving ahead with it,” he said.
However, Lakin and the district’s other two board members disagreed. They said they believe the water purveyor did the best it could with the information it had and they are pleased with the results. It has been about 30 years since the district has done work on its system involving PRVs.
“It was way more complicated than they imagined,” said commissioner Jenny Bell, who was not with the district when the project began. “I think that just happens sometimes. You follow the advice of professionals. I don’t have anything but positive to say for the way they made decisions.”
Powell noted that the district had the cash to cover the project costs, and while other projects such as water main replacement may have been put off, it also recently retired a loan it’s been paying off at about $100,000 a year. While no decisions have been made, he expects some or all of the funds freed will go to replacing aging pipes.
“I anticipate that the maintenance budget will at least double,” he said.