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Cheney looks at consultant for water issues


September 13, 2018

City of Cheney officials are putting together a request for qualifications/quote (RFQ) they hope will get City Council approval and allow them to go out and hire a consultant to address the city’s water supply issues.

“We’d like a fresh set of eyes to come in and take a holistic look at this problem and come up with a multifaceted approach,” City Administrator Mark Schuller said.

Cheney residents and businesses have been beset by irrigation restrictions over the past four years that stem from a variety of reasons. Severe storms knocked out two wells in August 2014, and another well went down with mechanical problems last year.

This year the city imposed mandatory irrigation restrictions three times due to hot weather that led to quick draw downs in water levels in the systems five reservoirs — cutting off water to Cheney parks and open spaces along with getting consent from the school district to end irrigation of athletic fields.

One of the areas city officials hope a consultant can help is with communication. Schuller said the restrictions are not part of a growth problem, but stem from one central practice.

“It’s irrigation, irrigation, irrigation,” he said.

From late September to early June, all of Cheney’s 11,000-plus residents are served by just two of the city’s eight wells. One of those eight wells is separate from the water supply system due to turbidity issues and used only for irrigating Moos Field and Sutton and Salnave parks.

Another well is being redrilled with the hopes of turning it back into a producer and online. The remaining four wells are brought on only during the irrigation season to handle increased demand.

Schuller said they have had trouble dispelling misinformation about the condition of the city’s water supply, and hope a consultant will provide some solutions.

But officials also see infrastructure issues down the road, and anticipate a consultant would provide ideas on these as well. Cheney is currently using less than half of its 5,400 gallons per minute in water rights, so the question arises whether or not drilling a ninth well would solve the problem, something Schuller said would run over $2 million.

A consultant would examine conservation measures to see if ordinances dealing with these, such as landscaping requirements, need to be addressed. Irrigation would also be examined to see how to communicate best practices, and possibly some sort of incentive system to get people to buy into conservation.

Funding of Cheney’s water system is also part of the equation, Schuller said. Water rates need to be looked at as well as connection fees, which Schuller said are “very, very low.” Raising the latter could make Cheney less attractive to developers, but might provide the city a happy medium between growth and maintaining a stable system.

There’s also the possibility of imposing specific irrigation rates, something Schuller said needs to be looked at along with how efficiently the city’s system is operating. According to its annual consumer confidence report, Cheney strives to account for 90 percent of the water it produces.

In 2017, that dropped from 91 percent the year before to 85.3 percent. In 2015, the city accounted for 88.2 percent of its water while in 2013 that figure was 90 percent.

While past declines could be traced to specific large leaks, Public Works Director Todd Ableman said they couldn’t identify the cause of the drop in efficiency in 2017.

Ableman said if they experience a 10 percent loss over a three-year rolling average then city personnel begin looking at all of the system components. These include tracking unmetered water, calibrations of meters, data collection accuracy, potential water theft and water leaks.

“We are scheduling for leak detection services this fall, and currently scheduled two leaks for repair,” Ableman said.

One of the largest possible solutions to Cheney’s water issues comes in the form of re-use. The city’s wastewater plant could be modified to also function as a reclamation facility, something Schuller said would roughly cost in excess of $17 million.

Just a study to determine feasibility would cost $1 million, he added.

“That’s why we need a consultant,” Schuller said. “Is it worth just a study even?”

Currently, city staff are in the process of preparing a draft RFQ for council consideration. Once that’s done and a consultant is retained, Cheney residents will be asked to be part of the discussion. Schuller said the hope is that a consultant will find a way to increase community involvement on the issue, rather than the current practice of “only dealing with the vocal few.”

“We don’t want to go down a path they (residents) don’t want to go down,” he added.

John McCallum can be reached at


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