Geoff Dillard of RH2 — an engineering firm — brought to the Bonney Lake City Council a third draft of Capital Improvement Projects the city needs to tackle in the next five years, and warned them of the consequences if they do not. Photo by Ray Still

Geoff Dillard of RH2 — an engineering firm — brought to the Bonney Lake City Council a third draft of Capital Improvement Projects the city needs to tackle in the next five years, and warned them of the consequences if they do not. Photo by Ray Still

Bonney Lake resumes talks of water, sewer projects and rate increases

The City Council has to decide soon what projects to fund, and how much that will cost taxpayers, before the water or sewer utility system experiences a real emergency.

“Water is our most valuable natural resource… only tap water delivers public health protection, fire protection, support for the economy and the quality of life we enjoy,” Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson said in his opening words to the April 24 council workshop. “We are all stewards of the water infrastructure upon which future generations depend… each citizen of our city is called upon to help protect our source waters from pollution, to practice water conservation, and to get involved in local water issues by getting to know their water.”

This proclamation was an official announcement of Washington’s Drinking Water Week, May 6 through 12, but Johnson’s words underscore an issue Bonney Lake has been dealing with for several years — what projects are the most important for operating and maintaining such an important utility, and how much should that cost taxpayers?

During the April 17 workshop, Geoff Dillard, a principal engineer with the engineering firm RH2, told the council — in no uncertain terms — what projects they need to focus on and fund during the April 17 council meeting.

The city has been working with RH2 Engineering for years, and the firm knows the city’s water and sewer utilities well, Bonney Lake Public Works Director John Vodopich has said.

On multiple occasions over the last two years, RH2 has presented the council a Capital Improvements Project (CIP) list, detailing what water and sewer projects need to be taken care of immediately, and which can be deferred.

Bonney Lake would then take these lists and give it to the Financial Consulting Services Group (FCS), which examined the cost of the projects and determine how the city can fund them, mainly through the rise and fall of water and sewer utility taxes on residents.

Almost always, the council was unhappy with FCS’ numbers, so the city would go back to RH2 to defer a few more projects, which would lower FCS’ estimations for how high rate increases would need to go.

This back and forth has now happened two times, according to Dillard, but this third time might just be the end of the road, because there’s no other projects RH2 could recommend be put on hold by the city.

“The CIP you have now, I would say, is pretty ironclad,” Dillard said.

In total, the water CIP would cost the city $24 million over the next five years. The original CIP was closer to $30 million, but approximately 23 percent of projects were deferred.

The sewer CIP comes in at $8 million over five years, approximately $3 million less than the original sewer CIP.

RH2 Presentation to Bonney Lake City Council – 2018 CIPs by Ray Still on Scribd


The vast majority of water projects, and arguably the most important, in this CIP are geared toward water storage.

“Many years ago, we identified you had a storage deficiency, and every year, it gets worse,” Dillard told the council.

According to RH2, Bonney Lake has between 20 to 25 percent less water storage capacity than is required by the Department of Health, which, Dillard added, could have many consequences, including water access.

“There’s the nightmare that Dave (Cihak, assistant public works superintendent at Bonney Lake) and his crew live on hot days in the summer,” Dillard said. “You’re not aware of the stress they carry when it gets hot out there. They’re running around, overtime, not sleeping — they’re trying to make it so no one is out of water.”

When Bonney Lake does run out of water, as it has in the past, the city purchases water from Tacoma. However, this can be expensive for the city, since taxpayers don’t pay extra when the city has to buy more water.

But more concerning than less water availability for residents is the idea that there’s less water availability for East Pierce Fire and Rescue.

“You’ve been fortunate enough not to have a fire when the tanks are empty,” Dillard said. “You’ve had empty tanks, but you haven’t had a fire. So you’re just being lucky.”

The two water tank storage projects — a Lake 810 Zone Reservoir and replacing the Tacoma Point Water Reservoir — is estimated to cost just under $10 million on their own, close to half of all projects outlined in the CIP.

Dillard said the Tacoma Point Water Reservoir replacement, which has been a project the city has deferred for 13 years, is more-or-less being mandated by the Department of Health in order to get the city’s storage capabilities into the black.

The Lake 810 Zone Reservoir is, another project that’s been deferred for more than a decade, is also a high-priority project, Dillard said.

Building these two tanks would meet DOH’s requirements and then some, giving the city roughly 15 percent additional water capacity than required.

RH2 estimated roughly 85 percent of the projects in this CIP are required to be completed in the next five years, or are marked as having the highest priority when all projects are compared to one another, Dillard said, adding he doesn’t recommend deferring any more projects.

Dillard also recommended the city think about increasing operation and maintenance staff for the water utility when deciding on future water rates for residents.


According to RH2, Bonney Lake has some work to do on two of its lift stations and it’s sewer mains, which together are responsible for approximately 65 percent of all sewer utility work that needs to be done.

Dillard said some of the mains, like the one along state Route 410, are “running out of capacity — it’s pretty flat, and not enough diameter to take all of that commercial development, plus what’s coming its way from Eastown.”

The SR 410 water main project has been deferred for a decade, and is expected to cost around $700,000.

“We’re trying to get in front of that before it’s a big issue,” Dillard added.

While this water main should be replaced very soon, according to RH2’s priority list, sewer Lift Station 17 and the future Lift Station 18 are the two must-do projects in the CIP.

“Both of these are driven by growth in the 410 corridor, Eastown area,” Dillard said. “You want to grow out that direction, you need to do these projects.”

At the meeting, city staff told the council the lift stations will soon run out of capacity, based on new construction happening nearby.

When lift stations are at capacity, they wear out faster, Dillard said, and when they fail, cities have no warning and zero response time.

As an example, Dillard told the story of another client of his that didn’t heed RH2’s warning, and a $50,000 project turned into a $1.5 million lawsuit.

Expanding Lift Station 17’s capacity is expected to cost around $450,000, and designing and building Lift Station 18 $1.7 million.


With these proposed CIPs in their laps, the council now has to decide how to pay for these projects.

Looking at the first CIP drafts in May 2017, FCS recommended the city raise water rates by an average of 7.5 percent over five years (starting June 2017), and sewer rates by 4.3 percent per year for five years (again starting June 2017).

The council balked at those high rate increases, but voted in a one-time 9 percent increase for water and 5.5 increase for sewer in May 2017.

In Sept. 2017, FCS came back with a new recommendation of a flat 4 percent per year increase for five years for both sewer and water rates.

The council wanted to increase sewer rates to a flat 4.5 percent increase and keep the water rates at 4 percent through 2022, but the decision was derailed when dozens of residents brought to the council a water consumption issue lat October, and a vote on the rates never went through.

Councilman Tom Watson asked the council if it made sense to continue the flat 4 percent rate increases for water sewer utilities suggested by FCS. Councilman Dan Swatman agreed, and said, “It would be good to see the actual model from FCS with those numbers in it, so we, as Councilman Watson pointed out, make sure that we’re having the appropriate rates set to match the project set.”

City Administrator Don Morrison said there won’t be another rate study, but FCS will be tweaking their rate model “to figure the rate increase needed to complete the CIP projects the Council has finally agreed on.”

“They hope this will come to no more than a 4 percent annual increase, but until FCSG runs the numbers, we won’t know for sure,” Morrison added. “I expect the proposed rate ordinance to be ready for Council consideration sometime in June, with an anticipated September 1 effective date.”

The full version of this article can be found on, along with the full Powerpoint presentation RH2 gave to the city council, detailing what projects the firm believes the city should be tackling in the next five years.

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