Winter deluge fills lakes; city continues conservation efforts

Kaibab Lake is the fullest it has been in several years. City water officials are solely using surface water from the lakes to supply water to residents.

Photo by Wendy Howell.

Kaibab Lake is the fullest it has been in several years. City water officials are solely using surface water from the lakes to supply water to residents.

This stormy January has brought welcome relief and hope for at least a temporary reprieve from Williams’ water woes, however, that has not stopped Williams water officials on a quest to find ways to conserve water and create a stable reserve for the city.


Water overflows Santa Fe dam after the recent snowstorm Feb. 28.

The La Nina conditions did not develop much this winter and snow-pack is above normal for much of northern Arizona.

Kaibab, Cataract, Santa Fe and Buckskinner lakes are full with over 850,000 gallons of water available to residents.

“This if the first time in nine years that it has been like this,” said city water contractor Pat Carpenter. “2008 was the last time we saw all the lakes fill up.”

Carpenter said the increase in snowfall this winter has helped take the immediate pressure off of the water needs for the city, but he and his staff continue to search for ways to manage and refine the water system, and reduce costs for the city.

“All of the wells are turned off and we are only using water from the lakes right now,” Carpenter said..

Carpenter said with all the city’s reservoirs full, the town has over 850,000 gallons of water available for residents, which would last for two and a half years if the city didn’t supplement with their wells.


City Manager Skylor Miller, Councilman Bernie Hiemenz and consultant Pat Carpenter discuss treatments at the Williams Water Plant.

“In the past we sucked all the lakes dry,” he said. “We’re going to change that this year.”

Williams City Council member Bernie Hiemenz said the city would like to keep the lakes at a level that is acceptable to recreationists.

“I’d like to keep them as full as we can for camping and fishing,” he said. “People love it up here, but when you’re in a drought you don’t have a choice.”

Carpenter has worked with the city over the past few years to create a more secure backup water system for the city. He has helped get two of the older wells back in operation and walked the city through the process of digging the Sweetwater Well.

The city now has three wells that are operational and can provide residents with 500 gallons per minute of water. These include Rodeo Well, and Dogtown 1 and 2 wells. The city also has two wells that are not online, the Santa Fe and the Sweetwater.

“When I started (as a contractor for the city) three or four years ago, we had 20 percent, maybe 40 percent in all of our lakes, and one well running,” Carpenter said.


Water is filtered in basins at the Williams water treatment plant.

According to city manager Skylor Miller, the goal of the city, when it comes to water, is to stay ahead of water demand.

“One thing you have to keep in mind about this area is that these are not traditional water wells,” he said. “We are having to drill 3,500 feet or more and the pumps that you put at the bottom of those is the same you use in oil drilling.”

Miller said as city manager of Quartzite, city staff managed a 1,200 foot well that produced 800-900 gallons per minute.

“The problem with the wells around here is that nobody drills that deep,” Carpenter said. “I believe our wells may be the deepest domestic water wells in the United States.”

Carpenter said besides keeping the wells operational, the city has also been working to improve the efficiency of the water treatment plant.

The city is currently using water from City Dam, or Buckskinner Lake, to meet water demand.

“We are not only saving money for the city by not running the wells, but we also aren’t using the Cataract pump house,” Carpenter said.

All the water from the city’s reservoirs and wells are routed through the Cataract pump house on Seventh Street and Railroad Avenue, and redirected to the water treatment plant, except for the water from City Dam.

“Buckskinner (City Dam) is gravity fed,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said the city likes to keep City Dam as full as possible. He said the water in the reservoir is the city’s emergency water supply if there is a catastrophic failure in the city’s water system.

“Even in the summertime we try to keep Buckskinner up because we can pump water into the lake,” he said. “If we have something fail in town — the pump house fails or a major water line break, we can isolate it and gravity feed out of Buckskinner. That gives us a 45-day supply.”

Water treatment process

The water treatment plant received an overhaul in 2006, with the city spending nearly $2 million for a new chemical building, new sediment basins, new automated systems and replacement of outdated piping. The work boosted the treatment capacity from 800,000 gallons per day to 1.5 million and improved water quality.

Well and lake water enters the facility and goes through a process of mixing, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, and chlorine disinfection. This approach effectively removes practically any range of raw water turbidity, along with harmful bacteria, including E. coli, viruses and protozoans, such as Giardia lamblia and amoebas.

Several workers oversee the plant operation that converts the often murky water into the clear water that comes from the tap.

“It comes in basically mud,” Carpenter said.

Raw water basins slow the water’s velocity after it passes through the intake structure, allowing heavy sediment and grit to settle to the bottom of the basins before the water enters the treatment plant.

Chemical coagulants are added to react with the remaining small particles in the water to form particles large enough to settle out. Rapid mixing distributes the coagulant evenly throughout the water.

Flocculation basins gently mix the water with large submerged paddles so smaller particles collide to form large particles called floc.

“As the coagulant works you see snowflake type designs that slowly settle the solids to the bottom,” he said.

Floc settles by gravity to the bottom of a sedimentation basin and clean water spills over to the filters.

Filtration removes any remaining particles. The force of gravity moves the water through filter media — primarily sand, anthracite coal, granular activated carbon, or garnet sand.

Chlorine is added for disinfection. A chlorinator meters chlorine gas from a chlorine cylinder and then delivers the set dosage.

Finished water basins ensure contact time is allotted for adequate disinfection, and water is stored in massive tanks outside the plant before entering the distribution system.

“The chlorine is the one that is important to make it safe,” Carpenter said. “It leaves here at one part per million and we try to keep it at .5 parts per million in the community. That will ensure if there is any bacteria in the lines it is killing it off before people consume it.”

Water and cost savings

Hiemenz and other city council members have been working with Carpenter to find ways to save money and conserve as much water as possible in the water treatment process.

Fine sediment left in the water prior to the filtration process clogs the filters and requires frequent back-washing to clean the filters.

Carpenter said the staff at the water treatment plant recently replaced the coagulant agent used in the sedimentation process which has reduced the amount of back-washing.

“We were losing close to 50,000 gallons per day of clean water for back-washing,” Miller said.

“With the new chemical we’re back to almost 48 hours between cleanings and saving close to 20,000 gallons per day,” Carpenter added.

Carpenter said the staff focused on securing leaks in the city’s water infrastructure in 2016 and reduced water use from 17 million gallons in 2015 to 14 million in 2016.

“It was a combined effort with city staff and changes we made with the process,” he said.

Carpenter said the Environmental Protection Agency requires the city to frequently check for contaminants.

“We did random samples in September for lead and copper,” Carpenter said. “I tried to target some of the older buildings in town thinking they may have some lead, but all of our tests came back below the limit.”

See next week’s edition for part two of the city’s efforts to conserve water.


Water overflows Santa Fe dam after the recent snowstorm Feb. 28.


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