Seligman weighs water system update options

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Engineering firm says city needs better pressure, feed

Now that Olson Engineering has completed its water study and advised the city of Seligman of the underlying infrastructure issues with its aging water system, the city is exploring options on how to carry out the firm's recommendations with the least impact on residents.

In late March, Olson recommended the city upgrade its water system by replacing its main line running down Main Street, and by adding an additional water tower on the north side of town.

"We told Olson where all of our water lines were, and what size, and they built a hydrologic model that they could manipulate," said Brian Nichols, Seligman city clerk. "For example, if they could manipulate a pipe down Main Street, [they could see] how would that affect the system, or add another stand pipe and see how that would affect it. Our system needs upgraded pressure and upgraded feed, so in order to achieve that goal, we need to start at the core. To increase overall pressure, according to Olson, we need to replace the whole backbone of our system. That's the upgrade they say would increase the water pressure and amount of emergency water supply."

The estimated cost for the recommended upgrade would run roughly $2.5 million dollars, Nichols said.

"If we were to raise everyone's water bill with a $15-$20 a month increase over the next 20 years, that would pay that bond back," Nichols said.

But, the city is not planning to do that any time soon, as it is reviewing its options.

"Word spread through city hall that everyone's water bills are going up, and that's not the case," Nichols said. "Olson just gave us proposals, and we're just talking in the future how we could go about paying for the upgrades. The city needs the upgrade, but we've got to explore all the other avenues we can go or do first. They're just telling us where we need to start."

Nichols said he believed some of the smaller projects could be done in-house, some of which include replacing brittle, aging pipes, pipes that weren't put in the ground correctly, or connecting pipes that dead end. Other improvements, such as upgrading pipe from its current size, would require hiring an engineer.

"We can make a plan to upgrade everything we can without having to seek financing," he said. "We certainly don't want to get to a position like other communities where water bills have increased three times over and citizens have had to leave towns. That's a fear for any community."

Nichols said they also didn't want to have the opposite problem by ignoring the needs of an aging infrastructure.

"As with anything, age becomes an issue," he said. "Our current water system was installed back in the 1950s, and it's time to upgrade all the pipe that's in the ground. It's no different than a vehicle you drive -- with age, it's got to be replaced. Just because it's not broken now doesn't mean we can just leave it be and not pay any attention to it. We have to protect the water system and infrastructure and provide people with good, safe drinking water."

Another need for upgrades is fire safety.

"Right now, we don't have adequate flow throughout the city for fire safety, which is referred to as ISO rating," Nichols said. "The better you make that number, the lower your insurance premiums will be for all residents. The fire department wants to see the flow increased so that the fire truck can respond faster than the tanker following behind it. The pressure is not bad everywhere, we just have far more out of the city than inside because of how the pipes have been resized. We have larger diameter pipes in the city, and smaller pipes outside the city. The more you constrict your flow, the more pressure is going to come out of it."

Nichols said it is not uncommon for a municipality to raise its water rates a little every year, but Seligman hasn't raised its rates in over four years. He also said the city has the cheapest rates in the area, at $15 for the first 2,000 gallons (in city), and $2.25 per 1,000 gallons thereafter.

"We are the only ones I've seen who offer 2,000 gallons for a base rate," Nichols said. "The most I've seen in Cassville is 1,000. The average household uses 5,000 gallons of water, which makes a water bill here $21.75 inside the city."

Cassville's base rate is $11.96 for a meter, plus $3.80 per 1,000 gallons (in city), and they have had increases over the last five years.

Washburn's rates are $20 for 1,000 gallons and $7 a gallon thereafter.

"We've always got repairs," said Wayne Persons, Seligman's maintenance supervisor. "We just spent about $30,000 last summer on well No. 3 because lighting hit it. It gets very expensive. The EPA and DNR have their rules, too, where if your water rates haven't been increased up to the standard like everyone else, you can't get a grant to help pay for a new water line, and then, you don't have a means to pay it back. You've got to show a little profit to put money back to fix things with."

"It's your duty as an alderman or officer of the city to make sure the infrastructure is being kept up so it stays in good condition, and don't get in a position of having to play catch up," said Julie Grillone, Washburn city clerk. "That's a reason why a city would need to give small water increases each year so they can keep up with maintenance of their infrastructure. They can put themselves in a very sticky situation if they don't keep increases coming, and as communities grow, you have to increase the size of the lines little-by-little."

"In the end, we'll do what has to be done [for the city's and residents' best interests], I just don't know where that point is yet," Nichols said.

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