The city of Cottonwood is facing yet another boondoggle regarding wastewater.
This time, the issue revolves around an almost inexplicably stupid decision to build a wastewater treatment plant at Riverfront Park predicated on the assumption that the facility could inject water back into the aquifer without drilling a test well first to see if that was even possible.
Instead, the city went forward and built the state-of-the-art plant first, then tested if the water could be injected — like mounting a solid gold toilet in your bathroom, but forgetting to install plumbing.
The city spent $142,000 with a Glendale consulting firm to figure this out, but hired the company in January of this year, not five years ago when the findings could have told city officials the Riverfront site was not viable.
Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski accurately said this foul-up — pun intended — is “a major misstep that will cost thousands more on top of a project that has already gone over budget.”
City Manager Doug Bartosh stated he believed “everyone assumed that injection would work from the engineer, to the utility manager [and] to me, for what my expertise is worth.”
Apparently the city manager’s expertise is worth about as much as the unusable injection well, hence the reason for consultants. But consultants can do little if they are hired last minute rather than at the start of a project.
Bartosh added, “I agree that the injection well should have been drilled earlier, now that we look back on it.”
Now that we look back on it, who on city staff failed to consider testing whether a well would work before investing millions of city dollars into the new facility? It is effectively worthless until new lines can pump the treated wastewater elsewhere.
The city manager’s job is to oversee city projects like this to keep costs down. If Bartosh can’t fulfill the basic duties of the job, perhaps the city needs to find a new manager whose expertise in infrastructure projects is worth something more than what we have now.
Bartosh failed to properly oversee the viability of the project and his bosses — successive city councils — failed to ask the basic questions before approving construction.
Now taxpayers have to foot the bill to find a fix. There are two reasons why the city cannot dump effluent into the Verde River, the first of which is human psychology — no one wants to swim or recreate in water from a wastewater treatment plant despite the fact it is cleaner than thought.
The second reason is that the A+ quality treated water would upset the delicate environmental balance of the Verde because it is “too” clean. So instead, the city will have to tear up roads through neighborhood to install sewer lines to get rid of the treated water via irrigation or other wells.
Thus, taxpaying residents can be reminded for the next few months, perhaps years, about the Riverfront well failure as construction crews work. With other major projects coming down the pike, residents must wonder what other oversights the city manager and his staff have made and how much they will cost to fix.