‘Doomsday is not around the corner’

Efforts to deal with Page’s water issues explained at City Council meeting

The current water situation in Page is a cause for “concern” but not for “panic,” according to Page Utility Enterprises general manager Bryan Hill.

Hill was speaking at the Page City Council meeting on April 27, during which he provided a comprehensive explanation of how Page currently gets its water from the Colorado River, the challenges posed by aging infrastructure and ongoing drought conditions, and short-term and long-term plans to ensure a reliable supply of water to the city.

The discussion was in response to inaccurate rumors on social media that the water supply in Page and nearby LeChee could soon be “cut off” because of falling water levels in Lake Powell.

The rumors stemmed, in part, from a widely circulated article on the 12 News website from April 18 that said, “If Lake Powell's levels continue to fall … access to drinking water would be cut off for the 7,500 residents of Page, at the southwestern tip of the reservoir, and the neighboring Navajo community of LeChee.”

But at the April 27 City Council meeting, Hill explained that the Bureau of Reclamation was already moving forward with a project to take water from Glen Canyon Dam’s penstock tubes – located at an elevation of 3,474 feet – and connect them with Page’s current water line, which is located at 3,480 feet. The bottom of the penstock supply is 3,463 feet – 17 feet below Page’s current water pipe.

 From the dam, the water is pumped up to Page’s water treatment plant, then to two ground storage tanks, then to a 150,000-gallon elevated storage tank, and finally to homes in Page and LeChee.

“Today, we’re at 3,522. It’s come up a few inches in the last few days. We’re starting to get a little bit of spring runoff. I think we’re at 3,522 and a half,” Hill said. “3,480 is where our primary source of water comes from, from the lake. … All of our water that we drink, bathe in, water our grass and trees, etcetera, generally comes through that 18-inch inlet in the base of the dam.”

He said the BOR’s plan is to drill into two of the eight 8-foot penstock tubes and install valves to connect them to the existing pipe at 3,480 feet, which has been supplying Page with drinking water for the past 60 years. The plan has been in the works for the past month but required congressional approval before it could move forward.

 “This is a project that they’re undergoing right now that they’re buying parts for and planning,” Hill said. “The plan is to start buying parts right now, getting approval, and they hope to do that by the end of 2022.”

While the short-term BOR project gets underway, the long-term solution is to build a completely new pipeline in the Chains area that can draw water from the main channel of the Colorado River. This is necessary because a survey conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation in 2004 concluded that Page’s water-supply pipe through the dam, which is still in use, was nearing the end of its life.

Since 2004, the City of Page has been working on various plans to build a new pipeline concurrent with the existing pipeline up to the water treatment plant. Unfortunately, none of those plans have come to fruition, and the $40 million price tag to build the new pipeline is prohibitively expensive for a small town of 7,500 people like Page, Hill said.

“How can a little town of 7,500 people possibly afford a $40 million infrastructure project?” he said.

“We’re formally asking for help on our own,” he added, referring to efforts by the city to lobby for funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law last November.

Toward that end, the city has been lobbying Arizona’s congressional leaders – Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Sen. Mark Kelly and Rep. Tom O’Halleran – to make sure Page is included when the funding is allocated.

Page Mayor Bill Diak said at the April 27 meeting that he, the City Council and city staff have been putting “literally hundreds of hours” into the lobbying efforts. But he said Page residents can also help. 

“There’s a time that you guys can help us, too, because you are lobbyists also,” he said, addressing the local residents who attended the meeting. “There’s going to be a time here shortly that we’ll probably be asking you for your support” for the new pipeline. 

“I can say I don’t think the city has ever worked harder on a project, from the city manager to public utilities and council and our board at PUE. We’re really on top of this and doing the best we can. And we’re hopeful and are gaining some traction with our legislators for getting some of that money,” Diak said.

“We want to make sure that you guys feel comfortable that doomsday is not around the corner and that we are doing the best possible job to ensure that we never get in that situation.” 

Following Hill’s presentation, which included answering numerous questions from residents who attended the meeting, the City Council voted on the Resolution of Support for Water Infrastructure Improvements Critical to the Economic Viability and Drought Resiliency of the City of Page.

The resolution pointed out that the city was created by an act of Congress as a government camp for the purpose of building Glen Canyon Dam, and that the dam is of significant “statewide concern” due to its role in Colorado River water storage, recreation and tourism benefiting the entire state of Arizona. It said that it was urgent to act promptly to replace and maintain the aging, critical water infrastructure to ensure the survival of Page amid worsening drought conditions, and that Page was requesting appropriations to fully fund three key improvements to ensure reliable fresh water to the town and surrounding areas: a new raw intake, conveyance pipeline and water treatment plant expansion.

“The City of Page supports all efforts by the federal and state governments to fund the aforementioned water infrastructure improvements necessary for the City of Page’s continued fresh water supply and economic sustainability,” the resolution said. 

The resolution was unanimously passed and adopted by all City Council members present.

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