After town council heard presentations from Artesian and Tidewater water companies in the last several months, Milton's water committee has recommended the town fix its water problems without the help of an outside utility.
The three water committee members in attendance at the Jan. 16 meeting voted unanimously to recommend town council exclude any interconnection and construction of a new water tower in an application to borrow money from the state.
Committee member Jack Bushey, a former mayor, said the town should not consider connecting with Artesian or Tidewater. He said if the town can rely on either utility for water then town officials may become complacent with its own system, allowing it to fall into disrepair.
“I would not recommend us filing for any money for any interconnection,” he said. “Get the system upgraded; come back to the people and say, 'We're doing this and this.'”
In a report prepared for town officials in July, engineer Steve McCabe of Pennoni Associates recommended the town consider rehabilitating an offline well, upgrade its current system and increase its allocated water pumping limit, build a 500,000-gallon water tower and connect its system to a private utility. An interconnection could provide Milton with water when it reaches its pumping limit of 500,000 gallons per day or in cases of emergency.
Residents voted against a referendum last March that would have allowed the town to borrow $3.45 million to build a new water tower, treatment facility and additional mains and wells. Last year, CABE Associates told town officials it needed to increase its supply of water to meet the town's demand. During the public hearings held prior to the referendum, it was announced Milton's system was losing about 11 million gallons of water each quarter. After the referendum failed, town officials tested the system for leaks, installed new water meters and employed other methods to find the missing water. Town Manager Win Abbott said the town's lost water is now closer to 9 million gallons. It is also believed some of the water is falling back into the well after it's pumped, resulting in it being recorded twice. Check valves are expected to be installed by the end of the month to record water use more accurately, Abbott said. After the valves are in place long enough to show results, Abbott said, the town would consider approaching the state about increasing the amount of water it is allowed to draw.
Water committee Chairman Emory West, who's also a councilman, said town staff has done a lot over the last year to identify and fix the problems in the water system.
“We're trying to work to get a referendum together, but we're not going to go to a referendum unless we've got our act together,” he said. “That's why since that referendum last spring the water department has been working their tails off.”
At the Jan. 16 water meeting, McCabe presented officials with the results of its two preapplications to the state for funding. Milton submitted an application for funding to build a 500,000-gallon water tower and a separate application detailing work for drilling a new well, upgrades to the current system and an interconnection with a private utility. McCabe said the water tower preapplication ranked 7th in the state's list of projects, which is determined on importance and need. The second preapplication ranked 10th. Now, the town must decide if it wants to submit one, both or a portion of the applications to the state for final consideration. The deadline is Friday, Feb. 15, and town council is scheduled to meet Thursday, Jan. 24, to discuss the topic.
The water committee would like to see council move forward with only a portion of one application, excluding an interconnection with an outside utility. Members voted to not pursue funding for a new water tower.
West said he'd prefer to hold a referendum that does not include Tidewater – many residents feel the utility took advantage of the town when it bought the wastewater plant in 2007. He said it is the committee's job to find the best option and sell it to the townspeople.
“If Tidewater is in the equation, no matter how many referendums we have it's not going to get passed,” he said. “Somehow we need to get Tidewater out of this equation for the townspeople.”