Firefighters and homeowners in the Grassy Knob area approached the Carroll-Boone Water District Thursday with a request to "turn back on" a water hydrant located a quarter mile down County Road 116. They say they need it for fire protection for their homes and to keep their insurance rates lower.
Chuck Olson, a firefighter and training officer representing the Grassy Knob Fire Department, asked why the hydrant had been turned off and said the closest other hydrant is near the Horizon Restaurant at the junction of Hwy. 187 and Mundell Road. He said the department had used the hydrants in training firefighters.
McGoodwin, Williams & Yates consulting engineer Brad Hammond and Plant Manager John Summers replied that a few years ago a valve near the water district's 30-inch line cracked at a junction and had to be clamped off so the valve was not operable.
Resident Terry Engholm said he lives at the end of CR 116, and that hydrant is the closest to him.
"I live three miles from it," he said. "We used it when Sugar Mountain (Resort) burned a few years ago."
CBWD Chairman James Yates asked whether local developers had put in hydrants for fire protection.
Engholm said there are some developments in the Grassy Knob area that have small water associations, but he and many of his neighbors live in undeveloped rural areas and have their own wells.
Water operator René Fonseca said the hydrants, which belong to the water district, were installed when the water lines were being laid and were used as "blowoffs" to test and set water pressure for the district's potable water. There is no backflow protection on them. If there is a loss of pressure in the line while a fire truck is filling from a hydrant, water could get sucked back out of the truck and into the line, violating the Health Department's contamination rules on potable water.
"Traditionally, you need a Class IV water license to operate them," he said. He said the water district had let the fire department use them without charging them for the water, even though it is treated potable water.
Olson said the fire department had put a lock on the hydrants when they found out there was unauthorized use.
CBWD Commissioner Gene Bland recalled the Health Department had given a firm "no" to a question about the Eureka Springs Rural Fire Department using the water district's hydrants in the Keels Creek area.
Summers said there is no written contract with Grassy Knob to use the fire hydrants; it's been done under a "gentleman's agreement." But he said he also wasn't aware they had been using the one on CR 116; the agreement was only for the one on Hwy. 187, and the fire department is supposed to pay Eureka Springs for any water taken out of it, under the water district's contract with its four members cities.
"It's not a good setup. That's why we need a legal statement," he said.
There have been a couple problems with such use in the past with MWY's other clients, Hammond said.
"Hydrants are put on for flushing purposes, and they use smaller lines," he said. "They don't have the same capacity for fire flow, and (fire departments) don't know that.
"That's what people don't understand," Summers said. "They were not put in for firefighting."
Yates said he also would like to eliminate the hydrants being used for training.
The board voted to look into the legality of allowing use of the hydrants and report back at the next meeting.
In other business, the board:
* Approved for MWY to update the five-year master plan, not to exceed a cost of $25,000 without additional approval. The plan will take into consideration population growth, especially of Harrison, as it is at the end of the water line, the need for parallel lines, the crossing at the Kings River, requests by possible rural water associations to hook onto the CBWD line if a member city declines to allow hooking up to its own lines and updating CBWD's bylaws in light of new laws and requirements.
* Approved financial statements. During discussion of the financial reports, district lawyer Dan Bowers said CBWD can pay engineering charges of $29,000 incurred for the fluoride study by MWY, that the law does not prohibit the district from incurring costs.
* Approved a selection committee of Commissioner Gene Chafin, Hammond, Summers and Bowers to review applications for the office manager position, vacated by the death of Jim Allison. MWY was approved in a December special meeting to handle advertising for the position, and Hammond said they had received 34 applications by the Jan. 15 deadline.
* Heard Summers say CBWD had a "record year" in water pumped: 2.8 million gallons, 80,000 more than in 2011, "an all-time high." But he also reported the lake is steadily drawing down and is currently at 1108.5 feet. Hammond said the lowest recorded level he could find was in February 1997, at 1093 feet, but he had reports of it being lower. As the water district's lowest intake gate is at 1054 feet, there is little cause for alarm yet. "We have a long way to go before we'd have to excavate," he said. "There are things we can do to get water out of the lake if we need it."
* Heard the sludge ponds are empty, but the district will have to bid out a new sludge contract this year and should expect prices to rise since the last one.
The district has scheduled its next meeting for April 18 at 10 a.m.