Marion will see higher water rates

Effective with the February 2009 utility bill, Marion residents will be paying more for water. The decision was made at the Dec. 1 city council meeting and was passed unanimously.

The base rate will go from $24 to $26 a month, but still includes the first 1,000 gallons in that price. For every 1,000 gallons in excess of the base, the cost will increase from $2.50 to $3.75.

Explaining the cost hike, City Administrator David Mayfield said the cost of treating 1,000 gallons of water is $2.97 and while it was absorbed this year, something needs to change next year.

?The 2009 water budget is $497,627,? Mayfield said, ?and it costs $226,843 to make water (safe for public consumption).?

The remaining portion of the budget after treating the water is $270,784, which is needed for infrastructure, he said.

?This money pays for personnel, bond and interest payments, the swimming pool, water lines that could break, those kinds of expenses,? Mayfield said.

The problem is that when factoring in revenue from city water customers, the projected income is about $424,204 or a shortfall of $73,423.

?We are using projected costs for next year,? Mayfield said, ?and we are not wanting to make a profit, but we do want to break even.?

By increasing the base and water per 1,000 gallon prices, the city will have money in the black of about $13,000, he said.

Marty Fredrickson, street superintendent and certified in water treatment, spoke about the water department?s infrastructure and a fairly new water treatment system.

The city, he said, paid $1.8 million in upgrading its water plant by adding a new type of water treatment using ozone.

The plant improvements were basically completed during the end of 2007, but it took a year of operation to determine all the costs associated with these upgrades.

The water-plant upgrades also included piping changes and filter rehabilitation.

In addition, the making of ozone and introducing it into the public water supply was a cure for the algae toxins in the reservoir, he said. It is also a new disinfection method.

In fairly broad terms, the process involved in making ozone requires passing electrical current through highly oxygenated water.

The ozonated water is then injected into the public water supply. The process of making ozone and infusing it into the public water supply is part of the cost associated with the budget.

Fredrickson said the oxygen tanks needed to oxygenate the water costs between $800 to $900 every five to six weeks, along with added electricity costs in order to give the electrical current needed.

The city is also being mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency to test Marion Reservoir over the next year for E. coli.

Mayfield told the council that if the reservoir tests above 240 units of E. coli, the reservoir will need to be tested for Cryptosporidium, a microorganism that takes the form of tiny cysts that can survive chlorination and slip though standard municipal water filters.

According to information from EPA, Cryptosporidium can enter the water supply through sewer leakage or agricultural run-off contaminated with feces.

In order to know whether or not Marion Reservoir has the microorganisms, the EPA has mandated all small and large public water supply sources to monitor their areas, and if one or more of these tests add up to the 240 units of E. coli, the next step is testing for Cryptosporidium.

So far, nine of the 24 tests have been completed with testing done on the same day every two weeks.

Since starting the tests, Fredrickson said, two of them had zero units of E. coli, one or two tests had 56 units and the remaining tests have added up to a total of 134 units.

Based on that information, Mayfield said it is obvious to him (with 15 tests left) that the city will exceed the 240 units of E. coli.

Since Kansas does not have a certified lab to test for Cryptosporidium, Mayfield said it would cost the city anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000, which is another reason for the water rate increase.

Should the samples, which are taken directly from the reservoir, have 240 units of E. coli, Hillsboro could be another option for helping pay the lab testing.

?Dave Waldo with Kansas Rural Water suggested Hillsboro and Marion approach the Kansas Department of Health and Environment about splitting the cost for testing,? Fredrickson said.

Both Mayfield and Fredrick?son said Marion officials will be meeting with city officials from Hillsboro about this situation.

Both Hillsboro and Marion get their water supplies from the reservoir.

Two houses control flow rates, Fredrickson said. Hillsboro requires a pump and Marion has a gravity feed.

?The water intake comes from the same pipe at the west side of the gates at the reservoir,? he said.

From there, the piping splits into two separate feeds ? one to Hillsboro and the other to Marion, Fredrickson explained.

?With this new (water) system and upgrades,? Mayfield said, ?we will need to review rates each year.?

For example, should the city lose 20 customers, it could result in a budget deficit or wetter years could create less water needs, he said.

As for residents east of Marion, a rate increase was tabled. Even though the cost to make water is the same for all residents, the council decided to wait.

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