The city of Cottonwood Riverfront Reclamation Facility will not be making good on one of its original claims — that a major portion of the A+ quality reclaimed water it produces will be injected below groundwater sources.
On Jan. 3, the City Council unanimously approved a professional services contract for “an amount not to exceed $142,000” to Glendale-based Pineview Consulting to engineer and design an injection well and point-of-compliance well modification at Riverfront Park.
By June 13, Pineview had determined that direct underground injection would not be possible because of the shallowness of the aquifer under Riverfront Park. Natural Resources Director Tom Whitmer presented to the City Council alternate methods of disposing the effluent produced at the facility, including injection at “locations farther from the river, direct discharge to the river, direct discharge to Cottonwood Ditch and creating increased areas of irrigation.”
“I’m concerned about the discovery that direct injection is not a viable option at the new [facility],” Mayor Timothy Elinski said in a June 30 email to Whitmer, City Manager Doug Bartosh, Utilities Administrative Manager Roger Biggs and City Clerk Marianne Jiménez. “I did not want to belabor this in public but I want some sort of explanation on how this was overlooked and who bears responsibility.
“What’s obvious to us now is that the test well should have been drilled first, as the concept of this facility rested largely on direct injection at the site. This is not a small oversight to me, but I think we can all agree a major misstep that will cost thousands more on top of a project that has already gone over budget compared to discussions of this facility years ago.”
Elinski said that though he has supported the reclamation facility from the beginning of its original conception more than a decade ago, “many of the details were never publicly discussed and the council never had a real handson approach to” developing the facility.
“If Pineview is responsible, I want to make sure we consider this before we move on into any other contract work,” Elinski said. “If staff or council is to blame, I want to make sure we have mechanisms in place to ensure this oversight doesn’t happen again.”
Bartosh responded the same day, saying, “I agree that the injection well should have been drilled earlier, now that we look back on it. However, I believe everyone assumed that injection would work from the engineer, to the utility manager [and] to me, for what my expertise is worth. “It is also important to remember that the primary reason the plant was located at Riverfront was to make use of the reclaimed water to irrigate all of our fields versus pumping everything uphill where there is less use for the reclaimed water.”
According to Bartosh, much of the reasoning behind drilling an injection well was due to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s desire not to have effluent discharging into the Verde River, as per the facility’s original design. An injection well, he added, was not the primary reason for locating the reclamation facility at Riverfront.
“Could it have been handled better in hindsight? Yes,” Bartosh said. “However, no one can truly say what is underneath us and where the best location is to inject water. We could try and drill deeper with the hope of getting below the aquifer, but that would be a gamble.”
Bartosh said that the better option would be to pump the reclaimed water to the city’s closest injection well, at Cottonwood Kids Park.
“Moving everything to the Kids Park has much better odds for injection and irrigation with the reclaimed water,” Bartosh said. “Also, moving the reclaimed water to the Kids Park is consistent with future plans for the use of reclaimed water. We are just moving ahead sooner than anticipated with that plan. Having said all of this, we will be reassessing our contracted water and wastewater engineering services for all future projects.”
“[The cost] has just crept up slowly .... It’s shocking,” Elinski said, adding that the responsibility lands squarely on the city manager, mayor and City Council — including Elinski himself, who acted as a City C ouncil member at the time of the reclamation facility’s development. “Shame on them. Shame on us.”
According to Elinski, the city will most likely use “as much water as possible” at Riverfront.
The remaining water is a major issue, however: Currently, the city is waiting on an estimate of the cost to pump the water to Cottonwood Kids Park.
For a full accounting, the anticipated estimate will need to include the price of pumps, reclaimed water lines and other materials needed to push the reclaimed water more than a mile uphill.
“Not to mention the electricity costs,” Elinksi said.