A state budget shortfall is being blamed for a lack of progress on Grand Canyon National Park Airport’s reclaim water distribution system.
Russ Pankey, airport manager, told the South Grand Canyon Sanitary District board last week that the reclaim line running to the airport will be cut and capped with nothing to happen until at least this coming spring.
"Budget restraints at the present time are causing us to do some things we’d rather not do," Pankey said. "The community may not be aware of the pressures in state government right now with budget cuts and possible future budget cuts. We’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. We’ll probably have to cap the reclaim line until spring or until something is worked out with the tenants or whatever to restore the line."
The sanitary district called the meeting because of the possibility that the airport would eliminate the reclaim line entirely or perhaps even build their own wastewater treatment system in the future.
"We’ve spent several thousand dollars putting in the system with the purpose to use it, not to abandon it," Pankey said. "Nobody said we’d abandon the line or not furnish reclaim water."
Board member John Quinn directed comments toward the state for not taking the time to deal with projects outside Phoenix, which is especially troubling since Grand Canyon is the second busiest airport in the state during the summer.
"We’re a lost child because we’re not in Phoenix," Quinn said. "The biggest thing is this is all for the community. What I’d like to get out of this is the airport working to move in this direction?"
"I think we’re in agreement, there’s just a little delay," Pankey replied.
Pete Shearer, sanitary district board chairman, went over a history of the reclaim-sewer line and said they are looking for a solution to uphold rules and regulations and also to have something economically and environmentally sound.
Currently, the reclaim water line is finished up to Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters from a line that was installed as part of an airport construction project in the late 1990s. The line to be capped will be located past Papillon, serving the rest of the airport and its tenants.
AirStar Helicopters’ Ron Williams was present at the meeting and Shearer asked if tenants would be interested in covering costs to get the airport reclaim system repaired.
"They and the airport will benefit from this both, economically and environmentally," Shearer said. "You’ll be saving water for future generations."
Shearer added that since reclaim could save tenants 75 percent or more of their water costs, perhaps those businesses should be subsidized by the airport for the additional costs incurred due to the airport’s unwillingness to complete the reclaimed supply line.
"We’re looking for a cooperative solution here," Shearer said. "We feel if it costs $20,000 to fix the line, it will pay for itself in one year with the customers at the airport. We feel it’s in the best interest to continue on and give everybody access equally in the district."
Williams said he may be open to sharing the costs, but would have to know what those costs would be before making a commitment.
"The state paid money to put the lines in ... and I don’t understand why we’re not connected," Williams said. "I was required to be prepared to be connected. I think we ought to move ahead and complete the damn line."
A few years ago, a contractor tested the line and couldn’t get water to the other end because of a cut where trees were planted. Shearer said they thought they had discovered the last leak in the line, but then the project ran out of money. Today, there may be no leaks or there may be 100 leaks, he added.
Barry Baker of Halvorson-Seibold Properties said Grand Canyon Airlines supports the reclaim effort, but reiterated what Williams said about knowing what costs could be upfront before committing any funds.
Pankey said the airport was committed to cooperating with the district on the reclaim issue, but added "I think there are some unanswered questions to be resolved, so we’ll cap the line temporarily until spring."
The airport is the sixth-largest sanitary district customer in terms of sales, based on numbers from July 1-Oct. 22 of this year. The top five customers are all hotels in Tusayan. The Squire Inn, Quality Inn and Grand Hotel alone account for half of all sales.
In another matter, Shearer and wastewater treatment plant superintendent Bob Petzoldt went over regulations with the airport and documents that are needed. Shearer said the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality requires the district to comply with certain rules and regs to keep the environment safe.
The airport and ADEQ have an agreement to have the sewer-reclaim line tested and approved by Feb. 1.
"If ADEQ approves to cut and cap it, we can get the sewer approved and the reclaim to that point approved," Shearer said. "And then if the money becomes available in the spring, we can work cooperatively with the airport and ADEQ."
Shearer said anytime the system is worked on, Petzoldt should be contacted. And he added there would be no charge on that, it’s only a requirement for ADEQ. The sanitary district is mandated, he said, to be in charge of the complete wastewater collection and reclaimed distribution systems.
Petzoldt went over numbers he compiled concerning how much money the airport and its tenants could save by using reclaim water.
"I’d hate to see it put on the back burner," Petzoldt said. "The numbers you could save in the first season would pay for repairs to the line probably five times in airport terminal and tenant savings. Every day and month you delay this, it’s costing thousands of dollars. That’s why I hate to see this delayed until next year. The line being abandoned and never re-energized is my fear."
Pankey disagreed with Petzoldt’s numbers as being high and added "yes, we would save money but remember we’re getting free water when it rains."
Pankey was referring to the airport’s new water collection system. But because of the drought, the airport did have to buy water this year.
"In a normal year, we obviously don’t have to buy any water," Pankey said. "We’re in the process of doing a study on our costs and that’s something that will be available when we sit down and see how to get this repaired. I’d hate to have the tenants come up with any money. We should have to come up with the money to repair it."
Although Pankey made reference to free potable water through the airport collection system, tenants still pay $16.50 per thousand gallons more for potable water than if reclaimed water was available to them.
Shearer said completing the reclaim water line now will benefit future generations.
"We live in a high desert environment. All of northern Arizona is feeling the impact of the current drought," Shearer said. "If we are to assure an adequate supply of potable water far into the future, we must explore every option available to us."