17 Feb 2017
- By Bryan Manabat - firstname.lastname@example.org - Variety News Staff
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inspector John Tinger says the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. loses about 70-75 percent of the drinking water it produces and incurs substantial unrecovered costs.
In his declaration filed in federal court in support of the U.S. status report for Feb. 2017 regarding CUC’s compliance with the stipulated orders, Tinger said that only 25 to 30 percent of CUC’s water is billed to customers and generates revenue.
Water loss causes include leaks in the distribution system, non-metered customers such as agriculture interests, broken or inaccurate meters, and illegal connections, he added.
Stipulated order number 1 or SO1 requires CUC to have an EPA approved plan and schedule to perform detection and repair leaks in the drinking water distribution system, and to identify and eliminate subsurface connections to old drinking water lines or pipes that may negatively impact the quality of water in the distribution system.
Tinger said EPA disapproved CUC’s proposed leak detection and repair program on Aug. 6, 2014. CUC, he added, has not responded to EPA’s disapproval.
SO1 also requires CUC to have an EPA-approved comprehensive drinking water and wastewater master plan to determine current and future infrastructure needs for a 20-year period, and to provide a long-term plan for CUC’s drinking water and wastewater system improvements.
Tinger said SO1 requires specific condition assessments and analysis that must be included in the master plan, including an assessment of wastewater collection systems, pump stations, and treatment systems; and drinking water assessment of transmission lines, well head protections, storage tanks, and alternative treatment technologies.
After substantial discussions and EPA’s initial disapproval of CUC’s draft master plan, EPA conditionally approved the master plan on Nov. 14, 2016.
But EPA did not fully approve CUC’s draft master plan, Tinger said, because CUC did not commit to funding and implementing the master plan requirements, such as repairing or replacing the drinking water system to ensure adequate quantity and quality.
Instead, he added, CUC said that complying with the master plan depends on federal funding.
Tinger said EPA asked CUC to provide an addendum to its draft master plan to address EPA’s concerns and to include CUC’s commitment to implement the master plan.
CUC’s response is due on March 13, 2017, he added.
According to Tinger, prior to SO1, only 26 percent of Saipan’s population enjoyed continuous 24-hour drinking water service.
Within five years of SO1 and with improvements funded substantially by EPA, the availability of 24-hour drinking water service reached 94 percent in 2013, he said.
But he added that in 2014, the availability of 24-hour drinking water fell to 73 percent.
He said in Dec. 2014, Saipan’s 24-hour drinking water service increased to 81 percent but was still below the 94 percent standard reached in 2013.
He noted that customers on Tinian and Rota enjoy 24 hours of drinking water service.
In 2015, CUC said up to 4,000 out of approximately 9,000 accounts had malfunctioning meters.
In 2016, Tinger said, CUC funded approximately 2,000 new meters, but CUC’s Jan. 17, 2017 report did not provide further updates on the 2,000 new meters or provide a comprehensive accounting of the water-metering program.
Tinger said CUC must develop financial reserves to timely fund and implement a master plan, including emergency operations, maintenance and replacement reserves equal to three months of budgeted expenses.
CUC must establish a rate structure to generate sufficient revenues, he added.