<b>SACRAMENTO, Calif.</b> - For one small community in California, an Army problem turned into a welcome opportunity.

The city of Herlong, Calif., is nestled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, right next to Sierra Army Depot. The Sierra Army Depot was founded in 1942 by a general order signed by Gen. George C. Marshall, with a mission to store and ship ammunition. The town of Herlong grew up with the depot, a quiet little rural community. Joined together in relative isolation, for years, the town relied on the depot for its water. It was not an ideal situation: military installations generally are self-sustaining, without interlacing infrastructure support to local communities. And Herlong would have liked to have its own municipal water system, but could not afford to build one.

That all changed with a water quality report issued by the depot in 2008. As part of quarterly water testing the depot reported that its drinking water was contaminated with small amounts of iron, manganese and uranium. The Environmental Protection Agency had recently made national standards for drinking water stricter - the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, as amended in 2006, requires the EPA to re-examine its safe drinking water standards on a 6-year basis - and this put the depot's drinking water in violation of the standards.

Although the contamination was not an immediate threat to public safety, the report and the stricter standards required the California Department of Public Health to issue a compliance order to the depot to clean up the water. The Facilities Act of 1983 requires military installations to comply with state environmental directives.

The Department of Defense responded quickly with a $12 million project, managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, to clean up the depot's water.

When bids for the clean-up project contract came in, though, Corps project managers were pleasantly surprised: The accepted bid was less than half the projected cost. In these days of economic downturn, project bids will occasionally come in well below expectations.

"That left about $6.8 million on the table," said Sacramento District senior project manager Paul Feldman.

"We could have turned the excess money back to the Treasury Department, but during a conference call with Department of Defense officials, I came up with a suggestion: transfer the $6.8 million to Herlong."

The idea was that Herlong could use the money, along with whatever they could raise with municipal bonds and taxes, to build a water system of their own. The solution was win-win. Herlong would get its own water system, and the depot would no longer have the responsibility of providing water to Herlong.

"I believe that this is the first time that money has been transferred from the Army to a local community to build an infrastructure like this one," said Feldman.

The water project at the depot is nearing completion, pending some final touches, said officials from the depot.

In the meantime, Herlong moves forward with plans for its own water system, said Herlong Public Utilities Director Pat Williams. Once contract bidding is completed and the design is finalized, the city hopes to break ground for in the spring of 2011. The city has already spent $4 million from a municipal bond measure, laying the groundwork for the water system. The city's project is expected to be finished in December of 2011.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16