Cave Creek approves $1.2 million water upgrade

By TOM SCANLON
STAFF

Membrane unit – check. Engineering – check. Connection – check. That’s a lot of checks.

You could say the money flowed like flood water in Cave Creek last month. A speedy approval  bypassed the Water Advisory Committee and the typical bidding process for engineering and construction.

Despite repeated statements of a mantra-like “the water is safe,” Cave Creek’s council voted to spend more than a million dollars over the next year on a water upgrade.

As a town press release boasted, “The Cave Creek Town Council voted unanimously (June 26) to make significant improvements to the water system that serves residents in both Cave Creek and Carefree.”

The engineering checks paid to GHD Inc. will total $153,883.The construction checks paid to MGC Contractors for piping and electrical work will total $214, 636. The checks for the Pall Aria Fast Membrane Units, $840,000 per year.

Total cost over the next year: $1,208,519.

It should be noted the membrane units are not directly related to what one council member called an “attack” by a neighbor: In January, Carefree filed a condemnation notice in Maricopa County Superior Court, the first step in its quest to acquire the portion of Cave Creek’s water system that serves more than 500 Carefree residents.

“We’ve been attacked by the Town of Carefree,” said council member David Smith, prior to a vote that approved Cave Creek’s record $30 million budget. “We have to have some attorneys to deal with all the issues that come from that.”

While legal maneuvering continues, Smith and his fellow council members approved the membrane units on June 3, and engineering/construction costs on June 26.

Cave Creek’s storage tank and booster station located at 38250 N. Linda Drive.
(Photo by Tom Scanlon)

Based on statements made during the two meetings, some might view this as a million-dollar expense to avoid continuing embarrassment.  The town lately has been required to mail quarterly “notification” letters to Cave Creek and Carefree water drinkers.

The most recent letter, dated May 29:

“On April 29th, 2019, the town of Cave Creek (Town) received notification by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) that it is required to remove additional byproducts from its water supply. First off, this is not an emergency and your water remains safe to drink and use in your daily life…”

“This is not an emergency. If it had been, you would have been notified immediately. Total Organic Carbon (TOC, a form of DBP precursors) has no health effects. However, total organic carbon provides a medium for the formation of disinfection byproducts. The byproducts include trihalomethanes (TTTM’s) and haloacetic acids (HAA5’s). Drinking water containing these byproducts in excess of the MCL may lead to adverse health effects, liver or kidney problems, or nervous system effects, and may lead to an increased risk of getting cancer.”

Town leaders vow that the new membrane units will prevent these types of letters going out in future months.

The membrane units are a lease-to-own deal, with the town having the option to purchase them for around $1.9 million at the end of the first year.

“Cave Creek is spending substantial resources to continue to provide clean, reliable water for all our customers,” Mayor Ernie Bunch said, in a press release. “We are being proactive to maintain the highest quality of water for our users throughout Cave Creek, Carefree and Desert Hills.

“The membrane will be installed to provide an extra physical barrier to organic carbons, which are naturally occurring in CAP (Central Arizona Project) water. Cave Creek’s water has been and remains safe to drink.”

This echoed Jim Kaylor, the town’s utility manager

“The water is 100 percent completely safe to drink,” Kaylor stated, at the June 6 meeting.

Kerry Smith, who is chair of the town’s Water Advisory Committee, addressed the issue during public comment.

“I’m not opposed to the membrane system,” Smith said. “But why did it not go through the Water Advisory Committee?”

He added the problems are not new: “Why is it be treated as an emergency?”

Kaylor responded by saying the town had been negotiating with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to have its system re-classified but was unsuccessful.

After negotiations were completed, Kaylor continued, “that left us two to three weeks to find a replacement technique that would get us out from underneath the notifications we were being required to send.”

Also, in public comment, Eileen Wright, a former council member, quoted the portion of the water letter stating “drinking water containing these byproducts may lead to adverse health effects.”

Kaylor responded by again stating “there’s nothing wrong with the water.”

The mobile units, Kaylor later said, were to be functioning “with 100 percent compliance” by August 1.

Robert Morris, the only council member to oppose the budget, explained his reasoning in voting for the membrane units:

“Rather than send these notices out every quarter into the future it is wise to correct the problem quickly. The public must have confidence in the water quality.  The membrane filter system and associated engineering will result in increasing public confidence in water safety.  It sets us on the road to even higher quality water.”

Robert Morris, Cave Creek Town Council member

Morris stressed that even in its current form, “the water is safe. I drink it every day without reservation.”