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Water district adds amphibious vehicle to its arsenal

Jason Theobald
Staff Writer
As you drive through Hamilton Branch you may notice an odd looking yellow vehicle parked in front of the Hamilton Branch Community Services District office. This is the district’s new amphibious vehicle, an Argo 6x6 650 HD. It should make servicing the community’s spring during the winter much easier than it has been in the past.
Photo by Jason Theobald

Winters around the Lake Almanor Basin can be rough. Snow, ice and freezing conditions create issues for anyone trying to work outside. One such difficulty faced annually by the Hamilton Branch Community Services District (HBCSD) is traversing the unimproved dirt road that leads to its spring north of the community.

In the past, HBCSD has relied upon contracting snow removal services, four-wheel drive vehicles and, in the worst-case scenarios, cross-country skis and snowshoes to reach the spring. For the past 13 years, HBCSD technician John Hackett has employed each of these methods to keep the water system going during the winter months.

“A lot of times he’ll (Hackett) drive his truck until it’s stuck in the snow and then continue on skis or snowshoes,” HBCSD Manager Mike Roarty said. “We couldn’t go on with him having to walk in on foot during the winter months.”

The spring requires visits from the technician twice a week to maintain the levels of sodium hydrochloride (NaHCl) to prevent bacteria from growing throughout the system. Optimum levels for HBCSD’s system are 0.20 – 0.25 parts per million, which at that level is undetectable by consumers, according to Roarty.

“You usually wouldn’t detect the chlorine odor until the levels get up around 0.40 parts per million,” Roarty added.

Then there are the power outages that frequent the area. While the spring does have a generator to operate the pumping system, it has to be turned on manually, requiring someone to make the trek.

What this forced HBCSD to do was consider options for dealing with power outages and accessibility. While the district considered a new auto-start generator to address the power issues, that still did not solve the accessibility concerns during the winter. In the end Roarty proposed the idea of an amphibious all-terrain vehicle, as it would address the accessibility issue, and except for getting someone to the spring to initiate the generator, their current method for coping with power outages worked.

The fruit of Roarty’s suggestion is a bright yellow six-wheeled amphibious off-road vehicle now owned by the district, and sometimes displayed in front of the office at 3749 Highway A13 in Hamilton Branch. In November 2011, the district completed its purchase of the Argo 6x6 650 HD, but has yet to use the off-road capabilities of the vehicle.

When asked why the district chose the Argo over a snowmobile for winter access to the spring Roarty answered that the Argo was much more versatile. He added that the amphibious nature of the Argo means it would glide atop most of the snow, making it much less likely to get stuck and more able to deal with adverse conditions than a snowmobile.

The cost of the Argo, according to Roarty, was approximately $20,000. He quickly pointed out that the savings from not hiring someone to plow the road to the spring during winter would pay for the new vehicle in five years. He also noted that a new auto-start generator, when priced out, nearly matched the Argo in price and did not address the accessibility issues.

While there has been no cause for the district to utilize the Argo due to the unusually dry winter, Roarty said that he anticipates the vehicle will make the district’s job, especially that of their technician, much easier.

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