$6.8 million to Pierce County projects

About $6.8 million in federal stimulus money will go to three sewer and water projects in Pierce County, the state health and ecology departments have determined.

That means Tacoma will get a fully covered water supply, Wilkeson will get a chance to decontaminate its water source, and a few dozen homeowners will get their septic tanks fixed.

The bulk of the money is headed to Tacoma Water, which the state Department of Health selected to receive a $6 million loan for reconstruction of the McMillin Reservoir. The state Public Works Board approved the Health Department’s list of water projects to receive stimulus money last week.

The McMillin Reservoir is the last remaining uncovered reservoir in the Tacoma Water system, said John Ryding, regional engineer with the state Department of Health’s drinking water program.

The money will help replace the reservoir’s existing holding tanks with two covered ones. Each of the tanks will hold about 33 million gallons.

“Ultimately, they’re required to get this done by federal law,” said Ryding, whose department was in charge of recommending 24 drinking water projects throughout the state for $38.5 million in federal stimulus funding.

“Because of the benefits you get from covering the reservoir, it tended to score rather high on the list of projects,” Ryding said.

Tacoma Water will receive the money in the form of a low-interest loan, which it must fully repay within 20 years.

The total project cost of the McMillin reservoir project is around $55 million.

Tacoma Water will have to pay $39 million, said Dave Sherman, the utility’s water supply manager. The utility has already received $10 million from state sources.

Officials plan to put the project out to bid in May and have a contract in place by July.

The utility began covering its smaller resevoirs in the 1980s, Sherman said, but delayed covering the McMillin reservoir because of the high cost.

“We want to get this done,” Sherman said. “It’s kind of the end of a 20-year program.”

Tacoma Water officials estimate the project will take about two years.

Pierce County, meanwhile, will receive $750,000 from the stimulus package for a loan program that helps homeowners replace failing septic systems.

That money is part of $65.4 million in stimulus funds Washington state is receiving for sewer projects.

The $750,000 will allow Pierce County to assist 20 to 30 homeowners with septic system repairs, said Dan Wrye, water quality manager with Pierce County Surface Water Management.