Even though it will involve slightly higher water bills for Lawrence residents, the Lawrence City Commission's decision to move ahead with an important infrastructure improvement is a good call.
The replacement of a water intake on the Kansas River will mean an increase of about 12 percent in city water rates in 2009, but it will buy a lot of peace of mind for city officials and the water customers they serve. The intake is the only way the Kaw Water Treatment plant can draw water from the Kansas River. Intakes on the Kansas River usually last about 30 years before being washed out. Lawrence's intake currently is operating fine, but it is 34 years old.
If the intake fails, the treatment plant must shut down, leaving the city dependent on the Clinton Water Treatment Plant for all of its water. Especially if that occurred during the high-demand summer months, that could mean water rationing and a lot of unhappy Lawrence residents.
Looking at the big picture, the project seems well worth about $3.15 on the average household's monthly water bill.
City officials need no reminder that these are difficult times for local taxpayers. Whether it's property taxes or water bills, many people are having trouble making ends meet. Because water bills are based on how much water each customer uses, local residents at least have some ability to control the size of their bills. Lawrence has always been blessed with ample water supplies, but prompting people to be more mindful of their water usage wouldn't necessarily be a negative trend.
As illustrated by the large backlog of street maintenance now facing the city, putting off important infrastructure projects often isn't a winning strategy. Even in tight economic times, moving ahead on a water system project that ensures continuation of a basic city service is a reasonable step.