A new Brighton Water Treatment is scheduled to come online in 2024 but water customers could face summer restrictions or higher rates until it’s ready, City Councilors were told Jan. 25.
A team of Brighton City staffers – Deputy City Manager Marv Falconburg, Utilities Director Brad Sherman and Finance Director Catrina Asher – outlined several ways at the meeting that the city could avoid running out of drinking water. Options included changing the city’s athletic fields and parks and how they are watered, changing the way drinking water is treated and encouraging citizens to limit their use voluntarily.
The final options include higher rates for the Brighton residents that use most water each summer and mandatory water restrictions.
“The final bullet point is the least palatable but a tool we may have to consider — implementing mandatory watering restrictions as many of our neighbors do if the water demand exceeds our supply,” Sherman told councilors.
Councilor Peter Padilla said it’s way too early to discuss increasing water rates.
“I can’t make decisions on things like rates when rate studies and proposals have not been presented,” Padilla said. “Nobody has asked for rate increase and I cannot offer an opinion on one yet.”
New plant in 2024
Councilors approved work on a new water treatment plant in November. Consultants Brown and Caldwell are designing that plant now, with plans to have it come online by the end of 2024.
Until it comes online, the city can produce up to 12.5 gallons of water daily, Utilities Director Sherman said. That’s more than sufficient to supply water for the city for most of the year.
Sherman said the city’s water customers typically use about 3 million gallons per day for showers, toilets and drinking water.
“That covers all of our indoor use — restaurants, schools, homes, apartment buildings, everything in town,” City Manager Michael Martinez said.This is why we can have so much impact. But once we start irrigating, you can see that curve goes up, from March to peaking in June.”
The situation changes in the summer when it’s time to water lawns. Municipal use, for watering the city’s athletic fields and parks and for, accounts for another million gallons of water between March and October. But other irrigation, including commercial uses and private homes watering their lawns, accounts for up to 9 million gallons per day, especially during the hottest months of the summer, June, July and August.
Sherman said Brighton’s utilities staff work hard to make sure the city doesn’t run out of treated water. The city can store up to 16 million gallons at any given time but an especially hot day with dry lawns can run through that quickly.
“This is what the guys at the plant face every day,” Falconburg said. “You have 16 million gallons in storage and you can pump a maximum of 13.5 million gallons a day, but not everyday. You can do 12.5 million regularly. But it starts drawing down and if something goes wrong — a pump goes out, a well goes out, some equipment goes down or you have a problem with a tank or electricity or a storm that knocks everything out — that just drains the system and in 24 hours you are in very serious trouble.”
Water usage is only expected to rise as the city grows, he said.
Falconburg said the city has two long term options to supply enough water year round. One would cost the city an additional $100 million but would let the city treat enough water each day that it should have no problem meeting demand until 2030 or later. A more expensive $150 million option would extend the facility’s life until 2045 or later, based on population growth forecasts.
Councilor Padilla said he favored the more expensive option.
“The idea of going with a more effective long term plan is incredibly appealing to me,” Padilla said.
But Councilor Adam Cushing said he didn’t think that would be an option.
“We have been told option 2 is out of the question,” Cushing said. “There is no way we could cross the finish line.”
But no matter what Brighton does about the water treatment plant, there is still the next three years to consider. Falconburg said the city has already started converting some athletic fields from turf to artificial turf and is aggressively looking to build a non-potable system so the city can water its fields and parks with untreated water.
“We are lucky to have a Parks and Rec department that is on-board with that, sees the value and is helping us out with it,” Sherman said.
Councilors have signed agreement with South Adams Water to supply an additional 500,000 gallons per day and is looking at adjusting the water mix to get an additional 500,000 gallons per day.
“As soon as the weather allows, they have the designs going and done and get the ground broken to get that going,” he said. “And we are working on agreements to make sure we can pick up that extra 500,000 gallons a day as soon as we can get it.”
But the biggest solution could be a voluntary campaign to get Brighton residents to reduce their water consumption, especially during hot summer days.
“Last year we had that long string of days of 100-degree-plus days back to back. It came early and it was really kind of scary,” Sherman said. “But then you had unpredictable things like wildfires that produced a plume of smoke over the entire town and it kept us from having the sun get us up to 100. We could see demand drop.”
He said he’s planning to update councilors regularly on newer strategies to reduce demand or increase supply.