Johnson Utilities wastewater treatment

A Johnson Utilities wastewater treatment plant in San Tan Valley has been the source of many complaints over the odor that has made its way into housing areas.

SAN TAN VALLEY — More than $122 million in repairs and upgrades planned for Johnson Utilities water and sewer systems in the next three years include a complete closure of the notorious smelly Section 11 wastewater plant on the north side of Magic Ranch.

Officials from interim operator EPCOR Water held a public meeting Monday at Central Arizona College’s San Tan Campus to acquaint customers with their accomplishments and next steps, following 53 weeks of EPCOR running Johnson Utilities.

Jeff Stuck, vice president of operations for EPCOR, said the company has greatly reduced the incidence of sanitary sewer overflows, and for the last three or four months, any overflow “is the result of somebody else’s activity, not the utility itself.”

A 12-mile sewer section has been cleaned and there have been no overflows of any kind for 60 days, EPCOR Operations Manager Jacob Rogers added.

EPCOR plans to expand capacity at the Pecan wastewater plant, which also has had odor issues. That project should be complete in about 13 months, Stuck said. A customer also complained of sewage smells in Solera. Rogers said he would install an “odor logger” to better understand the problem.

Other major projects include expanding the Anthem wastewater plant. There is still capacity at the Anthem plant, but when it reaches 80%, that triggers expansion plans, Stuck said.

Projects such as the forthcoming Promenade housing community, at Hunt Highway and Mountain Vista Boulevard, “help to loop the system” and ultimately improve water flow. Part of Promenade’s development agreement is that it will provide two additional wells, Stuck said.

He said a lot of effort has gone into bolstering the water supply. “We are pushing water out into the system at pressures that customers would expect to see; we have volume available to do that. We are seeing storage tank levels sustain themselves and recover like they’re supposed to.”

A San Tan Heights customer said he has 20 pounds of water pressure “if I’m lucky.”

“I don’t expect to have pressure problems there,” Rogers replied. “It may be something unique to your area.” He asked for the man’s address to investigate the problem. Stuck said EPCOR is now seeing areas where it needs to upsize water lines, “but you should be seeing a great improvement in that.”

Some areas have been on “meter restrictions” limiting the number of new houses that can tap onto the system. One customer asked how much longer meter restrictions would last in Copper Basin. Stuck replied that “all the pieces are falling into place for that meter restriction to be relaxed.”

The Arizona Corporation Commission voted to lift meter restrictions in the Magic Ranch area, but the Queen Creek area still has restrictions.

A new ion exchange system to remove nitrates from the water has been running at the Johnson Utilities main yard for several weeks and has been “performing as expected,” Rogers said. EPCOR has also been installing air relief valves, or ARVs, in both the water and wastewater systems.

“We don’t want air in the lines and you don’t want it as a customer,” Rogers said. He said he wants to hear from customers who continue to have this problem. “It’s in our best interest to remove the air.”

EPCOR has a three-year improvement plan — 48 water projects worth $59.9 million and 22 wastewater projects worth $62.7 million — approved by the ACC this summer. But EPCOR has only two more years of its interim-operator agreement. Stuck said the agreement could eventually be extended by action of the ACC.

A customer asked what the community can do to support EPCOR’s continued operation of the utilities. Stuck replied, “probably just be engaged with the ACC.”

A customer asked if the money for the three-year improvement plan can be “segregated” so Johnson Utilities owner George Johnson can’t touch it.

Stuck said for the last year, Johnson has not been able to spend the utility's funds, and all work done in the last year has been funded by the utility.

Higher rates may be in store for customers following a rate case before the ACC, due at the end of the year. The complete rate case process could take 18 months, Stuck said. More community meetings will be held in the spring to “make sure you’re well informed of what’s in the application and how you can get involved in the process,” Stuck told customers.

About 70 citizens attended the hearing Monday, which one customer noted was a small crowd for a community of more than 100,000.

Another suggested the meeting would be more beneficial in November when winter residents are back. Stuck said there would probably be another meeting in early December.

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