Customers of Rural Water District No. 4 won't see individual refunds, but a $54,000 check from the city of Lawrence would replenish a drained capital improvements fund.
A faulty valve led to a drain on a rural water district's reserve funds, and Lawrence city officials are ready to plug the leak with a $54,000 check.
Tonight, Lawrence city commissioners are expected to approve a refund for Rural Water District No. 4, which was overcharged for 36.5 million gallons of treated water from January 1996 through February 1997.
"We didn't know if it was a leak or what," said Gerald D. Moore, secretary for the district's board of directors. "We were looking for a leak, then we found this."
The culprit: An inoperative backflow-prevention valve at the northwest corner of 31st Street and Haskell Avenue, where the city and district systems connect.
The valve is supposed to ensure water sold by the city to the district remains in the district's pipes. For more than a year, however, the treated water flowed back and forth between the two systems.
A nearby digital meter couldn't tell the difference between water coming or going.
"The city was selling it to us two or three times," Moore said.
After accounting for actual leaks -- both sides figure about 10 percent of the district's water never makes it to customers -- district and city officials agreed $54,026 ought to cover the overbilling.
"We are showing that when we learn of a problem, we find it and we fix it," said Rod Bremby, Lawrence's assistant city manager.
The district, which doesn't have a treatment plant, buys its water wholesale from Lawrence. The water then is distributed to about 800 customers south of the Wakarusa River.
The district owns its meter and the backflow-prevention valve, but Lawrence officials are responsible for keeping the equipment operational, said Miles Cleland, a board member since the district's founding in 1973.
"I think it was an honest mistake, and I'm sorry it took us so long to catch on to it," Cleland said.
The district expects to receive the city's check Thursday, Moore said. The money will be put into the district's capital improvements fund, which had been used to cover the overbilling.
Because individual rates were not affected, customers will not see refunds on their monthly bills, Moore said. Instead, the money will go toward construction of a new 300,000-gallon water tower on Baldwin Hill, off Douglas County Route 1055.
The board is planning a rate increase to go into effect July 1, Moore said. But it is not related to the overbilling.
Lawrence city commissioners are scheduled to consider the settlement during tonight's meeting, which begins at 6:35 at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts. The district already has approved the refund.