Carson City officials are optimistic a partnership with Vidler Water Co. would resolve a long-standing problem with leaky Brunswick Reservoir and possibly even result in a profit by selling large amounts of the city's effluent.
The Board of Supervisors approved a teaming agreement in December with the firm, which specializes in locating, developing and converting water rights. Specific wastewater projects that appear viable would be brought back to the supervisors for their approval.
"No one had a problem with giving away effluent," said Dorothy Timian-Palmer, Vidler's chief operating officer and Carson City's former utility director. "But now everyone is beginning to see its value."
Trying something new is preferred when compared to the most likely alternative: Constructing a second reservoir with a lining, putting wastewater in it, then lining Brunswick, said Andrew Burnham, the city's public works director.
Vidler has spent $50,000 on preparation work since the teaming agreement was signed. The company could end up with bill of $10 million to $20 million or more to get a project up and moving that would produce a high-quality, salable effluent, Timian-Palmer said.
The city wouldn't have to expend money to get the venture going, however. Once a project is working, the city and company would share any resulting profits from selling a highly cleaned-up product. The teaming agreement is five years long and it's possible a solution won't be ready by that time, said City Manager Linda Ritter.
"The city can't take on that type of financial risk ourselves," she said. "We wanted a partner, we want to share the risk. We didn't want to waste public money."
More aggressive marketing of effluent has been a longtime topic of discussion among city officials, but "we've never put together a marketing program. We're used to a traditional approach to managing water and wastewater," Burnham said. "We're asking a private partner to be more creative."
Resident Lou DeBottari doesn't want the city to team with a private company because water "shouldn't be a private commodity."
He'd prefer a consultancy arrangement where the city is responsible for financing it.
"The city can do a lot of this by itself," he said. "If people understood what the money would be used for, I think a bond issue would easily pass."
Vidler and city officials also expect a need for new rules because the state doesn't have regulations for such practices as injecting effluent into aquifers for recharge and pulling it back out of the ground in cleaner condition. State legislators wouldn't have this type of bill to consider until their 2009 or 2011 sessions, Burnham said.
"It has to be scientifically proven to work," he said. "Without having adverse effects."
Buyers of effluent need to apply for a state permit, but there aren't rules for recognizing that type of cleaned-up water as new and potable, said Ken Arnold, the city's public works operations manager.
Aquifers are below-ground areas that contain large amounts of water. Some are rocky and others sandy, but the exact nature of Carson's still needs to be determined by research, Arnold said.
The city reclaims about 5,800 acre-feet of water but loses another 2,000 acre-feet that seeps out of Brunswick. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to meet the needs of an average family of five for a year.
Finding a company that would be willing to act as a partner took a while. The city began making its request for proposals last summer. Nearly 200 firms were contacted, and 20 of those - including Vidler - inquired. While there was some interest expressed early on by other water companies, only Vidler provided the city with a proposal, and they "clearly have the expertise and financial capability," Burnham said.
• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber @nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.