Sunday, December 13, 2015

LOTT: Water Revolution Will Now Be Televised

Above: LOTT Clean Water Alliance board meetings will be televised starting next month, and the LOTT board members and Karla Fowler, LOTT Community and Environmental Policy Director, are ready for their big screen debut. LOTT and Thurston Community Television (TCTV) held a practice run with camera angles and technical fine tuning at Wednesday night’s LOTT Clean Water Alliance meeting.

Fowler, who joined the LOTT staff in 1996, is scheduled to retire from her position in July 2016. The community relations department is currently being reorganized as selection processes are underway for a public communications manager and an environmental project manager. New websites for LOTT and the WET Center will also be unveiled in 2016.

By Janine Gates

Lights! Camera! Action! At long last, the local water revolution will be televised starting next month when LOTT Clean Water Alliance board meetings and activities will be televised.  

Not only will there be plenty of technical bathroom talk about biosolids, reclaimed water, and total maximum daily loads, community members will also learn how the LOTT board of directors spends millions of dollars per year to maintain the region’s massive wastewater system.

Installation of the necessary equipment began in October, and four cameras will provide video and audio recording capabilities in the LOTT board room, training room, and classroom to serve a broad range of public events. 

The video equipment installation cost $168,375. The two year contract not to exceed $60,000 allows for Thurston Community Television (TCTV) coverage of LOTT board meetings and other events held by LOTT.

Meetings will not be televised live, but are expected be available the next day through the LOTT website. Work sessions are not currently scheduled to be televised, but TCTV executive director Deb Vinsel said the recording of work sessions would easily fit into the budget contract already created between LOTT and TCTV.

Meetings will also be broadcast on TCTV on a schedule that has not yet been determined on local Comcast channels 3 and 26.

Meetings and events other than LOTT’s could also be documented, and those entities would contract separately with TCTV for services, said Vinsel.

Vinsel said the LOTT meetings will be the first governmental entity broadcast in high definition in the county. The City of Olympia council meetings are expected to experience the next technical upgrade, scheduled for about June, 2016.

The work session and board meeting on Wednesday was taped as a practice run while LOTT board members discussed protocols as TCTV staff worked out the bugs regarding lighting, camera angles and microphone positions. 

Vinsel asked the LOTT board to ask its legal department for clarification and definition of “official record,” as Vinsel said the public sometimes contacts TCTV for meeting videos. 

Vinsel explained that TCTV simply documents meetings and is not a news agency. There is no ‘editorializing’ with the cameras, meaning they do not change camera angles to catch the reactions of individual speakers, for example, nor do they edit video.

The next LOTT Clean Water Alliance Board meeting, which will be video recorded and televised, is January 13, 2016.

LOTT Has A Lot of Business To Cover

The LOTT Clean Water Alliance operates a complex system of facilities worth an estimated $750 million and televised meetings will help increase the transparency and public oversight of staff activities and LOTT board decisions. 

The LOTT Board of Directors consists of four elected officials, one from each of the partner jurisdictions – cities of Lacey, Olympia, and Tumwater, and Thurston County. These positions are currently held by Cynthia Pratt, City of Lacey, Steve Langer, City of Olympia, Tom Oliva, City of Tumwater, and Sandra Romero, Thurston County.

The Wednesday night meeting was Langer’s last meeting, as he is leaving the Olympia City Council at the end of his term this month. City of Olympia councilmember Julie Hankins, his designated alternate, may take his place, and was present in the audience Wednesday night.

LOTT staff members are organized under four division directors who report to the current executive director, Mike Strub.

Wastewater treatment is an expensive business and infrastructure costs are huge. With 76 full-time positions, LOTT treats an average of 13 million gallons of wastewater each day.

LOTT’s assets include the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant, Budd Inlet Reclaimed Water Plant, Martin Way Reclaimed Water Plant, Hawks Prairie Reclaimed Water Ponds and Recharge Basins, and three major pump stations. 

LOTT serves over 52,000 acres within the Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater urban growth area. LOTT also owns and maintains 28.3 miles of sewer interceptor pipelines, and 10.7 miles of reclaimed water pipelines. The three cities own and maintain 53 miles of sewer collection system pipelines, which convey wastewater to LOTT's interceptors.

LOTT Budget

Very few members of the public attend LOTT meetings, even when it comes to the review of a multi-million dollar budget. Currently, the public can physically attend a meeting, listen to audiotapes of meetings on the website, and read meeting minutes to keep up with regional wastewater system projects.

In October, the board conducted a public hearing on the proposed 2016 Operating Budget, 2016 Capital Budget, and 2016-2050 Capital Improvements Plan. Board President, Olympia city councilmember Steve Langer, opened the public hearing at 6:41 p.m. and closed the public hearing at 6:42 p.m. because there was no public testimony.

And so, the LOTT Clean Water Alliance board of directors approved the 2016 combined Operating and Capital Budget in the amount of $39,941,715, an increase of about four percent over the current 2015 budget. 

The Operating Budget contains all the costs necessary to operate LOTT’s wastewater and reclaimed water facilities and administrative functions. The 2016 budget includes $11.8 million for operations and $8.9 million for debt payments.

The 2016 Capital Budget was approved in the amount of $19,190,920. The Capital Budget includes costs necessary to construct new facilities and upgrade, replace, and rehabilitate existing facilities.
The board also approved the 2016 - 2050 Capital Improvements Plan which identifies $89 million in projects anticipated through 2021. The 2016 Capital Budget is about 22 percent of that total, at $19.2 million.
In case of emergencies, LOTT maintains approximately $10.8 million in reserves in the bank. 

Reclaimed Water

LOTT has many ongoing projects of concern to the public, including a large-scale upgrade project for the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant and several projects related to reclaimed water.

A five year Reclaimed Water Infiltration Study, now in its third year, is examining the potential risks of infiltrating reclaimed water into groundwater. Reclaimed water contains residual chemicals from medicines, personal care products, household cleaners, fertilizers, and more.

The study’s activities for 2016 include extensive field data collection and analysis. LOTT has hired a firm to do water quality sampling at the Budd Inlet and Martin Way Reclaimed Water Plants, groundwater sampling in the Hawks Prairie and Henderson Boulevard areas, a tracer study involving sampling work in and near the Hawks Prairie infiltration site, surface water sampling in select water bodies, and analysis of potential risks to public and environmental health. 

A citizen advisory group to the study was next going to meet in early December, but that was postponed.

We do not have a date yet for the next meeting. We will be sending out a project update soon to the study list serve, but may not call the advisory group together for a meeting until early spring, when we have more data to share,” said Lisa Dennis-Perez, LOTT public communications manager, earlier this week.

Reclaimed water has been in use throughout the region for 10 years and is currently being used by the State of Washington at Heritage Park and Marathon Park, the Port of Olympia, City of Olympia at Percival Landing Park, Hands On Children’s Museum, East Bay Public Plaza, and the City of Tumwater at the Tumwater Municipal Golf Course.

Potential new uses over the next five years include irrigation of the Capitol Campus, which could utilize up to 250,000 gallons of reclaimed water a day.

In Lacey, the Woodland Creek infiltration facility is now in operation and LOTT is now developing a Deschutes Valley reclaimed water system master plan on 45 acres on the former brewery property in Tumwater. This project is anticipated to begin in 2029 at a cost of about $50,600,000.

The Washington State Department of Ecology, in conjunction with the Department of Health, has been working on the development of a Reclaimed Water Rule since 2006 and LOTT has been a participant from the beginning.

Since both of LOTT’s reclaimed water permits are due for renewal in 2016, LOTT is likely to be among the first utilities affected by the new rule, which is expected to be adopted by the end of the year.

Growth and the Bottom Line: Your Utility Bill

If you are a homeowner or renter in Lacey, Olympia, or Tumwater, the wastewater service charge on your utility bill is broken down into the city’s wastewater fee and LOTT treatment. This charge funds the operating budget and the portions of the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) that involve system repairs and needed upgrades.

The 2016 budget includes an increase of $1.08 in LOTT's monthly service rate from $36.06 a month in 2015 to $37.14 per month in 2016. This is a three percent increase to cover inflation.

The fee for connecting new customers to the sewer system has also increased from the current rate of $5,136.38 to $5,354.57, to cover inflation and support large-scale capital projects.

This fee, called a capacity development charge is paid when users hook up to the sewer system, and it is the primary funding source for projects that increase system capacity for new growth.

LOTT Looks Forward

Special meetings are occasionally held to share and discuss significant program and capital facility changes and challenges that are likely to face LOTT and its four partner jurisdictions.

After Wednesday's board meeting, Kelsey Browne, LOTT community relations program assistant, said she hopes the public is able to take advantage of learning more about LOTT, and lamented that the Septic Summit 2 meeting held in April was not televised.  

According to the forum minutes, seventeen elected officials were present. The first Septic Summit was held in 2011.

“We had three city councils, county commissioners, agency public information officers, and citizens here for a forum to discuss urban density septic systems. It was a full house. It just illustrated to us how we were held back by not having it televised,” said Browne.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on the evening of December 13. Significant corrections were made to budget numbers and LOTT assets on December 14 after an article review by LOTT staff. Little Hollywood apparently used 2015 budget figures instead of 2016 numbers and regrets the errors.  

For more information about LOTT, or to get on their Reclaimed Water Infiltration Study email list, go to the LOTT Clean Water Alliance website at LOTT is located at 500 Adams Street NE, Olympia.

For more information about LOTT, the Reclaimed Water Infiltration Study (formerly called the Groundwater Recharge Scientific Study), compounds of emerging concern, go to Little Hollywood,, and type key words into the search engine button.

Above: LOTT board meetings and the water revolution of South Puget Sound will be televised starting in 2016, thanks to the technological skills of staff at Thurston Community Television (TCTV).