Report: $4 million needed for reservoir cover

Newport Beach city staff is seeking approval to spend about $4 million on a new cover for the Big Canyon Reservoir rather than continue making repairs to the current cover.

The project is part of the proposed capital improvement program the City Council will study at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers.

The city filed a lawsuit in December against the maker of the current cover, which was meant to last 20 years but started to break down after less than five, according to court filings.

The 20-acre reservoir, which was dug in 1958 at the base of Spyglass Hill, has a capacity of nearly 200 million gallons. The custom cover protects the water supply from algae, flies and other contaminants.

The city has hired a firm to design a replacement cover and is including it in the proposed budget for City Council review, city Utilities General Manager George Murdoch said.

The city will continue to have a contractor make repairs to the existing cover in the meantime, he said.

"If you buy a new car and all the doors are falling off, you fix it as best you can, but you plan on buying a new car," Murdoch said.

The current cover cost the city about $6 million and was installed in November 2004. In September 2009, the city first noticed holes in the cover and black particles in the water.

"We know from the degradation we're seeing it's not going to last," Murdoch said.


Capital spending

Overall, Newport Beach is planning to scale back its capital improvement appropriations by 10% in the coming fiscal year.

Over the last few years, the city has maintained an annual infrastructure budget upward of $50 million, with about half getting spent and half carried over to the next year's plan.

The city's new infrastructure appropriation in the 2012-13 fiscal year is budgeted at $23.6 million, a drop from $26.1 million.

Most categories remain level. For example, the city will appropriate more than $9 million for street and drain improvements once again.

The city's investment in parks, harbors and beaches will drop to $1.3 million, following completion of an $18.7-million project for the Sunset Ridge, Marina and Bonita Canyon Sports parks.

Like all California cities, Newport Beach is facing budget pressures from declining revenues and rising pension costs. The city's revenues have declined for five straight years, but City Manager Dave Kiff has responded by trimming more than 75 jobs.

Last year, the city described its Capital Improvement Plan as "ambitious and wide-ranging."

Neighboring Costa Mesa has a similarly sized Capital Improvement Plan; the difference is it doesn't have the money to fund it.

In February, Costa Mesa unveiled a largely unfunded capital improvement "wish list," which provoked critics who accused the City Council of inventing needs to justify cuts to staff. That five-year plan identified $110 million in infrastructure needs, but only $30 million in funding.

Newport Beach's Capital Improvement Plan is independent of the $130 million being spent on the new Civic Center under construction on Avocado Avenue.

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