Water crisis hasn't evaporated

12 03, 2011 by Shreveport Times

Let's see, we logged 4.25 inches of rainfall in November, just a smidgen below normal for the month, but still 21 inches behind for the year. As this is written, more rain is on the way for the weekend.

But for Diane Stanley and her water well-dependent neighbors in south Caddo Parish, the crisis continues. She is still taking "really short" showers instead of wasteful baths, turning off the tap while she brushes her teeth, and recycling hand-washing water for use on houseplants. No, I didn't ask about how often she and her husband flush the toilet. That's why Rupert Murdoch won't hire me.

Most of us should know by now that decades separate rainfall from recharge when it comes to refilling the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer beneath the Stanleys' home near Norris Ferry Road. They've been lucky nursing their well supply, but others around them have had to dig new ones.

The Carrizo-Wilcox has been in steady decline for years because of suburban growth into south Caddo and north DeSoto parishes. Pumping out millions of gallons of water for hydraulic fracturing in the Haynesville Shale accelerated the depletion. The current drought played a role in creating more demand for lawns and gardens and stock ponds. The prospects don't look any better for next summer when demand normally goes up, and Stanley sees no encouraging signs for immediate help from local or state government.

That's why in these cool, comparatively wetter days, Stanley lapped up news that a private company was going to make its pitch Monday about building a water treatment plant at the Port of Caddo-Bossier.

The location makes sense for Wholesale Water LLC, which wants to draw water from the Red River, treat it and sell it to new and existing water systems in Caddo and DeSoto, perhaps even running a line beneath the river bottom to south Bossier Parish. Shreveport, where the water treatment plant on Cross Lake ran at or near capacity in July and August, also is viewed as a potential customer to provide additional gallons and to help with water pressure in the south part of town.

The $150 million plant would have a treatment capacity of 50 million gallons a day. Lead investor David Wicker, who is CEO of utility infrastructure specialist Yor-Wic Construction, said he would need contracts for about 30 million gallons a day before committing to construction. He's been talking to at least two subdivisions in south Caddo and also had a call from a property owner in west Shreveport who found gas in a water well he just drilled. As for the big users Wholesale Water really needs, the city of Shreveport or parish governments are obvious targets. Government collaborations also could assist in landing federal grants, says Wholesale's consultant, Mike Strong, who until a year ago directed public works and other operations for the city of Shreveport.

Strong was still at the city when Shreveport — the largest local producer and consumer of treated water — backed away from financial participation in a regional water effort. That led to some hard feelings on the Caddo Commission and Bossier Parish Police Jury which continue to pursue a joint endeavor.

Wholesale Water got a cool reception from both parishes this fall when it sought to be lead consultant on the regional water study plan. The two parish governments instead were set on hiring The Shaw Group which will begin dropping off the first of its reports beginning in January.

Of the Wholesale Water treatment plant, Caddo Parish Administrator Woody Wilson said nothing is ruled out. But the commission is more focused on creating an independent utility district to serve both parishes rather than being dependent on a private firm.

The utility district also could expand into rural sewage treatment.

Strong's former employer, the city of Shreveport, might be a more interested prospect though there have been no formal discussions. A major issue is that in times of lower consumption, the city would be buying more water than it needs. That would put the city in the new posture of having to market its water to offset costs, said Dale Sibley, Shreveport's chief administrative officer. (No doubt some ready customers could be found in south Caddo.)

The port location not only makes geographic sense for Wholesale Water's proposed plant, but the Caddo-Bossier Port Commission has used a variety of inducements such as tax breaks to help other tenants set up shop.

Port Director Eric England said the Port Commission is ready to listen. With 700-900 acres open for development, the port does have the 20 acres needed for the water plant.

The port and its 20 tenants already are major consumers of treated water from Shreveport — one tenant uses 1 million gallons a day in its recycling operations. The city also maintains the industrial park's water and sewer lines. So that provides a contract wrinkle that would have to be explored if the port or its customers considered buying water from Wholesale Water.

But where the Port Commission has options to review, Diane Stanley says, "We're just hanging on" and looking for answers. Her well, she adds, "could go dry tomorrow."