SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The Southwest Harbor Water and Sewer District is applying for a rural development grant to help offset the cost of upgrading water treatment facilities on the Long Pond Road.
Repairs to the aging treatment plant are sorely needed, according to district manager Steve Kenney. The plant was plagued by problems in 2016 and twice shut down completely: in April for four days and for 18 hours in December.
In December, both pumps in the pumping station that brings water from Long Pond to the treatment plant failed. The town’s fire department set up a pumper truck on the shore of the pond to keep water flowing into the plant while repairs were made. The issue with the pumps was traced to a broken intake pipe which sank and sucked up debris from the bottom of the pond.
The district recently tallied the costs involved during the December incident at $21,000. Other than the deductible, most of the cost will be covered by the district’s insurance company, Kenney said. Those costs don’t include a more permanent repair to the intake pipe. Another $20,000 is needed for that.
If the district is awarded the grant, plans call for replacing all equipment in the pump station, and controls and valves inside the treatment plant.
The district also is taking steps for more accurate billing. Of the approximately 925 water customers, 800 of them have water meters with remote reading capability. A majority of these readers are not working properly. The meter manufacturer has gone out of business.
“We’re getting only about 30 percent of our reads,” Kenney said.
As a result, the district has been estimating water use when billing these customers. Kenney said he is unable to determine how much revenue the district might be losing because of the faulty readers.
“Some accounts have been estimated for years,” he said.
Because sewer bills are based on water usage, the problem affects revenues there as well.
Kenney said the district is planning to replace the readers with a better quality product. Early estimates of the cost run between $60,000 and $120,000, he said. However, collecting the lost revenues should make up for any expense short term.
“We feel within one or two years, we’d make our money back,” Kenney said.
The district took over operation of the sewer and water departments from the town in January 2016. Despite the lost revenues and equipment failures, both departments finished the calendar year by breaking even, Kenney said.