EASTHAM — The Water Dept. has reached a milestone of sorts, with 1,500 completed or pending connections to the town water system — enough hookups to cover the department’s annual operating costs.
“We have been shooting for that magic number of 1,500 — the point at which the operations of the system are self-sustaining, and they can begin to build up their own capital,” said Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe in a phone call last week.
Next year’s water enterprise operating budget of $400,000 has only one funding source: water revenue. The current $379,406 budget was funded with $250,000 of water revenue and $129,406 from free cash — which amounts to a subsidy from the town’s general fund.
Meanwhile, in Wellfleet, with a much smaller municipal water system, town officials continue to search for a sustainable financial model.
According to Board of Water Commissioners Chair Jim Hood, Wellfleet’s situation differs from Eastham’s in that the water system is not townwide but serves a central district with about 550 potential connections. Hood estimated the number of current connections to be below 300.
“We’ve never generated enough revenue for it to be self-sustaining,” said Hood. He noted that requests for proposals for a consultant to help develop a financial model for the Wellfleet water enterprise operation would be going out, “hopefully” soon.
Eastham’s water revenue covers only operating expenses, not debt service. Unlike in Eastham, the Wellfleet water enterprise budget includes debt service for two loans associated with building the system. The budget for Wellfleet’s water system on last year’s town meeting warrant totaled $283,663, which included $109,031 of debt service.
Funding to establish Eastham’s municipal water supply and distribution system was approved over the course of two town meetings, with voters agreeing to fund $45.8 million in 2014 and $85 million in 2015.
The Eastham water system is about two years ahead of schedule and is expected to be completed in 2024, Beebe said.
According to data presented at the March 15 capital projects committee meeting, there were 1,383 water connections and 147 pending applications in Eastham. Sixty-one percent of the properties in town are able to connect to the system; 37 percent have connected to date.
Last September’s Eastham town meeting approved $50,000 for the initial funding of a loan/betterment program to assist residents interested in borrowing money from the town to connect a residence or small business to the public water system. The program is administered through the town treasurer.
Two well stations, one off Nauset Road with a nearby 750,000-gallon water tower, and a second at the high school on Cable Road, have been completed. A third well station at District H and a second 750,000-gallon tower are planned for a parcel off Nauset Road.
“Once District H is on line it will allow us more flexibility to use the high school well a little more sparingly, because, I think you realize, it does have iron levels that are climbing a little bit,” said Ryan Trahan, COO of project engineer Environmental Partners, at the March 15 meeting. “So, we’ve had to balance that for water quality, which is causing a little bit of brown water here and there in the system.”
Still in question were which properties would be reached under the final part of the project, which includes homes in the seashore district.
“Eventually we’ll have to make a decision on the very last contract that goes through all the seashore roads, which is essentially a very long transmission main all the way down Cable [Road] and circles back,” said Trahan. “Years ago, we said, before we put that out to bid, we would talk about the overall benefit of it. Obviously, the people along those roads would love it, but we’ll just have to calculate the cost-benefit analysis.”
“Going down Cable Road is one thing, but going beyond Cable Road is what we have to talk about,” said Beebe, noting erosion issues in the area.