Three entities uniting to explore regional water system

This is an aerial scan of the resettling ponds at Marion Reservoir, which serves as the primary water source for both Marion and Hillsboro. The two cities, along with Marion County government leaders, are exploring the feasibility of a regional water system that could expand to serve additionals areas of the county.The concept of a regional water system emerging in Marion County with six different projects being considered once an interlocal agreement is executed by Hillsboro, Marion and Marion County officials.

Marion City Administrator Roger Holter said the interlocal document is drafted, but not executed.

“A meeting of the elected official’s representatives will occur this week to review the operations and make recommendations to their respective councils,” Holter said.

Those representatives are Chris Costello from Mar­ion, Brent Driggers from Hills­boro and Dianne Novak for Marion County.

Hillsboro City Administrator Larry Paine said the idea would be that the water treatment plant in Hillsboro would treat water not only for Hillsboro, but also Marion and whomever else Marion would sell water to.

“On the treatment-side, the city of Marion’s water treatment plant could then be mothballed,” Paine said.

Based on ballpark numbers, Holter it would take more money to rehabilitate the Marion treatment plant to modern standards than to build a pipeline from Night­hawk Road to Marion.

“We already serve Pea­body,” Paine said. “The water goes out that direction and turns south.”

Feasibility study

Holter said the next step would be to secure a USDA Rural Development grant for preliminary engineering work to be completed by Don Heller of EBH & Associates in Great Bend.

“Don is their water specialist, and his whole career has been spent designing water and sewer systems,” Holter said.

The preliminary engineering reports should include water treatment modifications at the Hillsboro plant to meet the needs for Marion and other communities in the county, he added.

Paine said Hillsboro’s water treatment plant has the capacity to produce the water needed for neighboring communities.

As for modifications at the Marion plant, Holter said the city plans on keeping its 200,000 gallon clear water well, its chlorination operation and initially leaving the ozone treatment in the city.

“A 16-inch water line from Marion Reservoir to Hillsboro’s plant will be needed and then a new 12-inch pipe from Hillsboro to Marion where there is a T-connection at Nighthawk and 190th,” Holter said.

At that point Marion would tie on, he said.

The study would also look at serving the northeast county communities from Marion’s distribution system, and the feasibility of serving Florence.

“This could either be accomplished by (Florence) coming off rural water to the Marion County Lake or running another line from Marion’s large water tower and going down to Florence,” Holter said.

The preliminary engineering work will cost $50,000, Paine said, and it will be divided four ways.

Hillsboro, Marion and Marion County would each pay $12,500, he said, and a community development block grant and USDA Rural Development will pay $12,500.

Paine explained that part of reason the county is going to participate in the feasibility study is to find a way in which some of the communities running off of wells can have a more secure water resource then they now have.

“From time to time, and depending on drought water tables going up and down, there could be problems getting water for these communities,” he said. “I have no clue where every town’s diversion point is for sufficient volume, but that’s going to be part of the examination.”

Novak said good, clean water is crucial to everyone.

“Unfortunately in the county, we have areas where the water is very hard and in some places it’s just plain bad,” she said. “In my opinion it is being responsible and wise to move forward with this project.”

No­vak referred to the adage, “You never miss the water until the well runs dry.”

Timing a plus

Holter said the timing of the project is another plus for the cities.

“The water rights agreement in both cities is set to expire in 2021, and we need to get going on this so we can define the future,” Holter said. “Both (towns) are on the tail end of 40-year contracts with the state and federal government to pull water out of Marion Reservoir.”

Holter said Marion and Hillsboro entered into the contract in 1981, and “obviously” the state and federal governments will negotiate a higher rate because most other towns in the state pay a higher rate then the current rate here.

“Each of the cities pay 10 cents per 1,000 gallons of water drawn out of the reservoir,” he said. “Tom Sloan with the Water and Environment sub-committee proposed the bill increasing that fee to 40 cents per 1,000 gallons.”

Both Paine and Holter testified against the increase.

“In written testimony, I stated it doesn’t make sense, but the sub-committee is calling it surface water protection fee,” Holter said. “I think it’s just a counterproductive piece of legislation.”

Historical background

The idea of an interlocal agreement between Hillsboro and Marion was discussed in 1999, Holter said, and then again in 2004 to develop a single water treatment plant.

“In 2007, the city of Marion elected to go their own way, and that’s when the city put in a clear well,” Holter said.

The clear well was basically an underground storage tank and the ozone and chlorination components were also added at the time.

“Hillsboro went ahead and built their plant,” he said. “And, the foundation is on the original proposal which had a third cell, but it’s a treatment processing portion with a clear well above ground.

“Based on the current capacity, the (Hillsboro) plant could be increased another 33 percent with much less expense than Marion redoing its settling tanks in the old portion.”

The separator or settling system in Marion was put in during the 1960s, Holter said, and the instrumentation water personnel are using is the same type of gauges NASA used when the U.S. put Neil Armstrong on the moon.

“Preliminary estimates for Marion to bring its instrumentation and monitoring system up to current standards would cost the city more than $2 million,” he said.

Holter said that’s why it’s important for everyone look at the bigger picture, and take advantage of it.


“The cost savings would benefit everybody in the county, and at the same time, it basically would ensure access to good water for the next 40 to 50 years,” Holter added.

As for Florence participating, Holter said Darin Neufeld with EBH & Associates, spoke with city officials but no decision was made.

“We (Hillsboro, Marion and Marion County) are taking the stance to do an engineering design for every­­thing and then we can deduct from that,” Holter said. “The county is paying the portion for Florence, Lost Springs, Lincolnville and Centre High School.”

Paine said this was a cooperative effort that came about in earnest about a year ago between Hillsboro and Marion.

“It was an effort to pool resources to ultimately lower taxes or at least hold the line on taxes for all our communities,” Holter said.

“I also believe our county possesses the wisdom, the seed and the path to the future by creating strength by relationships instead of cost by division,” he added.

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