Friday, October 24, 2014

City moves to safeguard water supply from river

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 5/26/2014

Ottawa city officials want to ensure they are not left thirsting for options if the city’s raw water line from the Marais des Cygnes River temporarily was taken out of service.

The city’s utility department has developed a plan to install a second raw water line to the water treatment plant which would include “installing new lines from the Marais des Cygnes River pump station to the holding ponds west of the levee, as well as lines from the holding ponds pump station, and connect all of the lines to the water treatment plant,” Jeff Oleson, assistant director of utilities, outlined in a memo to Richard Nienstedt, city manager.

Ottawa city officials want to ensure they are not left thirsting for options if the city’s raw water line from the Marais des Cygnes River temporarily was taken out of service.

The city’s utility department has developed a plan to install a second raw water line to the water treatment plant which would include “installing new lines from the Marais des Cygnes River pump station to the holding ponds west of the levee, as well as lines from the holding ponds pump station, and connect all of the lines to the water treatment plant,” Jeff Oleson, assistant director of utilities, outlined in a memo to Richard Nienstedt, city manager.

The utility department and city’s engineering consultant estimated the project would cost $3,262,500, with possible funding sources coming from a state loan and city water utility fees.

Oleson appeared before the city commission Wednesday, explaining the plan and requesting a public hearing for 7 p.m. July 2 in the commission chambers at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.

The hearing is required before the city could consider moving forward with the plan and apply for a Kansas Department of Health and Environment loan to help fund a portion of the project, Oleson said.

City commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the 7 p.m. July 2 public hearing. Conducting the hearing does not obligate the city to approve the project nor to seek KDHE funding.

The utility department also has scheduled a public meeting 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. June 5 in the commission chambers at City Hall to give the public and property owners a chance to view the project and have their questions answered by city utility staff and the engineer, Oleson said.

The current raw water line is more than 30 years old, Oleson told commissioners Wednesday.

During a study of the department’s future needs, Oleson said, utility staff identified the need for another raw water line.

“[Utility staff] realized we need to be a little more redundant since this is a critical source, not just to the city but to surrounding rural water districts and to other communities [Ottawa serves],” Oleson said. “We need to look at does it make sense to provide a redundant supply [second line] of water because we only have one source and that is coming from the river and we only have one path to bring it to the water plant.”

The proposed raw water line would not be placed next to the existing one, Oleson said.

“We would not lay this pipe right next to the existing pipe, so we can have separation of those two lines, in case something happens we can assure that we provide not just for us but for the surrounding county too,” he said.

In addition to providing another means of delivering water from the river, the project also alleviates a safety concern, Sara Caylor, city commissioner, said.

“I was thinking the other day as I was driving out to what most Ottawans call Old Highway 50, if we didn’t have an alternate route to get to Old Highway 50 right now — because the bridge is out — you couldn’t get there,” Caylor said. “It’s much like our water system. We have no alternate route. If that route breaks down, there’s no way to get water.

“That’s not just the City of Ottawa citizens, that’s three-fourths of the county too,” she said. “If something were to happen to that one source, 20,000 citizens would have no access to water.”

Oleson acknowledged the city has contracts to provide water to several surrounding rural water districts and to the City of Princeton.

“There are other communities that have their own water supplies, but we are a major supplier to many of our surrounding county citizens,” Oleson said. “This line being the way it is, it brings it to the top of the more critical issues, and that’s why we are taking a look at it.”

In discussing funding for the project, Blake Jorgensen, city commissioner, said his understanding was the city’s portion of the project would be paid through city water utility fees — not property tax dollars.

Oleson confirmed Jorgensen’s assessment.

“It’s a large venture,” Oleson said. “It’s going to be several million dollars, and so we need to take a look and make sure we’re working with the finance department to make sure we balance between the project and what the impact is going to be to all the [city water] customers.

“It’s not a tax issue, it’s a [water] rate issue that we need to look at and make sure we are doing what is right for everyone,” he said.

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