Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Vian Water Dispute Goes to Court

Sequoyah County Water Association is investing in a new water plant and new water storage at Lake Tenkiller, to increase available potable water from 2 million gallons a day to 5 million gallons a day, which has caused a water rate increase, an increase that the Town of Vian is unwilling to pay.

Garner Garrison, SCWA board chairman, said the wholesale rate increase is, for Vian, about 90 cents per 1,000 gallons. The price went from $2.30 to $3.20 per 1,000 gallons in March.

Vian officials argue that is too much, and have refused to pay, and have only paid a portion of past bills. The Town of Vian owes the SCWA a little less than $20,000 at the present time, and SCWA threatened to turn the spigot off on Friday for the past due bill.

But Vian filed in Sequoyah County District Court on Wednesday for an injunction against the termination. SCWA officials met with their own attorney, John Robert Montgomery of Sallisaw, on Wednesday afternoon to respond. There will be a hearing on the injunction Thursday at 3 p.m. in front of Judge Matt Orendorff.

Garrison explained the reason for the cost increase. The SCWA is planning on building a new water treatment plant at Lake Tenkiller, the association’s water source. He said the present water treatment plant can process 2 million gallons of water per day.

When the association had an engineer do a study on increasing the water supply, the engineer recommended a new plant. The association board then approved a plant that will process 5 million gallons of water per day, and will cost $22 million, to be paid by a grant and loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bids to build the new plant will be opened Sept. 26 by the SCWA board.

In addition, the SCWA was also able to obtain water storage rights on Lake Tenkiller through the U.S. Corps of Engineers, at an additional cost.

The association has 5,948 residential customers throughout the county and supplies Rural Water District 5 at Gore, the Town of Vian, and some water to Muldrow. Vian has about 700 residential customers.

Unfortunately improvements cost money. Garrison said residential customers were paying $35 a month for the first 2,000 gallons. To help pay for the improvements, the cost increased to $41 a month for the first 2,000 gallons as of March 1. 

Garrison said the other water districts, District 5 and Muldrow, have not complained about the increased costs, and have continued to buy water from the SCWA. 

He noted the following wholesale water costs at other towns: Sallisaw charges $4 per 1,000; Tulsa charges $3.44; Muskogee charges $4.70, and Tahlequah charges $3.45.

Garrison said SCWA is a non-profit utility.

“We’ve never tried to make money on wholesale water,” Garrison said.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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