Keeping Customers Connected

Pump station upgrade improves reliability of Washington community’s water service.

Keeping Customers Connected

The Skagit Public Utility District in Washington State completed its new $3.2 million, 1,900-square-foot pumping station in 2022, eliminating service interruptions caused by frequent maintenance at the old facility

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The Skagit Public Utility District in Washington State plays an important role for residents of the communities it serves, especially through its management of water resources.

“Water is at the heart of what makes the quality of life in Skagit County so remarkable,” Andrew Miller told when he ran for a six-year term as member of the Skagit Public Utility District Board of Commissioners in 2020. “It drives nearly every aspect of the environmental, ecologic and economic benefits that we enjoy, and we need to make sure that we’ve got the absolute best team on the field at the PUD.”

Unlike much of the water-starved West, Skagit County’s issues are unrelated to drought. The challenge has been keeping the infrastructure up to date for the needs of a growing region. One of the biggest issues centered on the Judy Reservoir pumping station, which serves about 85,000 people in the region. Judy Reservoir stores approximately 1.5 billion gallons of water across 148 surface acres.

Earlier this year, Skagit PUD celebrated the completion of a new $3.2 million, 1,900-square-foot pumping station. Frequent valve maintenance at the old station required workers to shut off water to residents. The new pumping station will help ensure continuous delivery.

Precious resource

Miller, a Skagit County native, knows the region’s reliance on water better than most. He has run three businesses in the county, served on the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County, and even farms in the region.

“The PUD needs to be an active partner with agriculture and environmental initiatives and prioritize stable and affordable water access during droughts in order to maintain a viable agricultural industry in Skagit Valley,’’ says Miller, who won his race for a seat on the Board of Commissioners.

Skagit County, tucked in Washington’s northwest corner only 25 miles from Canada, includes 130,000 residents spread out across 1,900 square miles. The population density of 71 people per square mile contrasts sharply to Seattle, just 100 miles away with a population density of nearly 8,000 per square mile.

The cities of Mount Vernon, Burlington and Sedro-Woolley receive the majority of the water from the Skagit PUD. Due to public demand, the municipal corporation also provides service to unincorporated and remote county areas. The Skagit PUD was formed in 1936, and three years later went into the water business with 3,000 customers.

Skagit County purchased private water systems that served the cities of Mount Vernon, Burlington and Sedro-Woolley and consolidated them into an extensive water system serving the entire valley.

Initially, each city maintained its water filtration facility. Over time, the PUD replaced the aging filter plants with new wells near the Skagit River and eventually with the Judy Reservoir.

In 1947, the PUD began diverting water from streams in the Cultus Mountain watershed to the reservoir, which quickly became the region’s primary water supply. The PUD also constructed a storage and treatment facility to deliver chlorinated water through 11 miles of transmission lines. In 1990, the PUD built a new filtration plant that supplies 10 million gallons per day of safe, clean, reliable water to customers. The plant features direct filtration and chlorine dioxide treatment followed by chlorination before distribution.

Valve Dilemma

In the fall of 2020, Skagit PUD’s commissioners authorized the construction of the new raw water pump station at Judy Reservoir to help solve maintenance issues that impacted customer service.

Workers could not service pumps in the previous pump station without shutting down the treatment plant where the water is filtrated. “When we shut down the plant, some customers would lose water,” says Brandt Barnes, Skagit PUD’s construction manager.

The new building allows workers to access the pumps and valves for maintenance. The three 200 hp pumps can deliver up to 9,000 gallons of water per minute. More importantly, workers do not have to shut off water to customers now that they have easy access to the valves.

“It’s a much more effective and efficient solution,” Barnes says. “The raw water pumps need to be maintained regularly. We can extend the service life of the valves and not interrupt customers every time we need to work on a pump.”

The ability to adjust valves and maintain water delivery was the project’s cornerstone. The variable-frequency drive allows the pumps to run at different revolutions per minute, reducing energy usage and enhancing efficiency.

“We’re not wasting energy throttling back on the discharge valve,” Barnes says. “A lot of pumps are constant-speed. When they operate, they supply whatever the pump can generate. Now we can dial the VFDs up and down to get the necessary flows.”

The project went up for bid in September 2020 and began shortly after that with site work. The pump station was completed in February 2022.

Accessing Pumps

One of the challenges teams faced in construction included the installation of roof hatches. The hatches, manufactured by The BILCO Co., allow workers to remove the pumps when they need replacement.

Two motorized roof hatches, 12 feet by 6 feet 5 inches, were custom-made for the project.

“Because of the unique size and the distance between pumps, it was challenging to get the hatches installed,’’ Barnes says. “At first, we couldn’t meet the truss opening. We had to double up the opening size. Installing motorized hatches instead of a hand crank was a good solution.”

Growing Area

Temporarily suspending service to residents who rely on water from Judy Reservoir might have worked in the past, but the region is growing quickly.

When the Skagit PUD first purchased private water systems in 1936, the county’s population stood at slightly more than 35,000. By 1990, the population reached nearly 80,000. Now there are more than 130,000 residents in Skagit County and, as Miller notes, water is at the heart of the county’s economy.

Skagit County maintains one of the largest and most diverse agricultural communities west of the Cascade Mountain range. Over 90 different crops are grown in this fertile valley, including blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, daffodils, pickling cucumbers and specialty potatoes.

One of the county’s other calling cards is tulips. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, a monthlong attraction every April, brings roughly 400,000 visits and $65 million to the area. The event started in 1984 as a two-day affair and has grown over time and now includes art shows, a gala celebration, and the Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair. People from across the country visit every April.

And, as any beer connoisseur will tell you, water is the most important ingredient in that product. Skagit County is home to 13 of Washington’s craft breweries. Washington has more craft breweries than 46 other states — with an economic impact amounting to more than $1.8 million — and some of the best are in Skagit County. A local college, Skagit Valley, includes a Craft Brewing Academy that provides an overview of the craft brewery business. Water and beer are tightly interwoven, and few places in the nation do it better than Skagit County.

Great taste, too

Beer drinkers aren’t the only ones who believe water pumped from Judy Reservoir tastes superior. Water from the system took first place in a Best Tasting Water contest held by the American Water Works Association Northwest Subsection. Judging criteria included odor, taste and aftertaste.

The department takes a water trailer to community events, encourages water conservation, gives tours to help students learn how raw water is turned into safe drinking water and more.

With a region in which nearly every facet of life revolves around water, it is important that delivery be consistent around the clock. Now, with the new pumping station in place, residents, business owners and farmers can trust that the infrastructure is in place to meet their needs.

“The major component to this project was being able to service pumps without having to shut down the treatment plant,’’ Barnes says. “The pump station we have now is much more efficient and maintenance-friendly. And that was the primary objective.”


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