Archive for Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lawrence utility customers may see rate increase to cover needed repairs to Kaw River water intake

June 9, 2011


Water intake valves on the Kansas River.

Water intake valves on the Kansas River.

Call it a $6.8 million reminder.

Lawrence city crews on Saturday were forced to shut down the Kaw Water Treatment Plant near Burcham Park as the rising Kansas River clogged the plant’s lone water intake pipe.

The city had to quickly increase the amount of water it was treating at the Clinton Water Treatment Plant in west Lawrence in order to meet the entire city’s needs.

“We were fortunate this didn’t happen in July or August when we had customers using large volumes of water,” said Philip Ciesielski, city assistant director of utilities.

The Kaw plant is designed to operate with two water intakes, but one of the water intakes has been inoperable for several years. City utilities department leaders have previously asked for funding for the project, but city commissioners have balked at the $6.8 million cost.

City Manager David Corliss said he plans to recommend that the project be funded in the 2012 budget, but he said it will require a rate increase.

“But I think one of our top priorities needs to be improving that intake on the Kaw River,” Corliss said.

Corliss said adding a new intake to the plant is particularly important, given that the one operating intake at the Kaw plant is now about 40 years old.

Corliss doesn’t yet have an estimate on how large of a water rate increase he may recommend to city commissioners. Whether rates go up will be decided by commissioners. Corliss last year recommended a rate increase for both sewer and water fees, but commissioners rejected the proposal over concerns that a rate increase would be too burdensome with the tight economy.

City crews started noticing problems at the Kaw Plant early Saturday morning. By 4 a.m., the city had shut down the plant and was working to blow out whatever was blocking the pipe.

Ciesielski said water plant operators routinely back flush the intake pipe — meaning water from inside the plant is pumped out of the pipe to clear it of debris. But as the Kansas River rose to flood stage, that became less effective. Ciesielski said crews had to hook up extra pumps to increase the amount of water they could pump through the intake pipe.

Meanwhile, crews began working to increase the amount of water that could be treated at the Clinton plant.

“There’s a process to that,” Corliss said. “It is not like taking the water hose from the front yard to the back yard. It is a lot more complicated than that.”

Ciesielski said the Clinton plant started sucking more water in from Clinton Lake, but he said it took about a full day to get the increased capacity online. Ciesielski said city crews noticed the problem early enough to prevent any major problems with water service. He said the city was able to fill all of its water towers prior to the Kaw shutdown, which was important to ensure that the fire department would have adequate water pressure to fight any fires that might arise.

The Kaw Plant was brought back on line by mid-day Sunday. Ciesielski said he doesn’t know whether it was debris, mud or sand that clogged the line. He said he doesn’t believe the blockage caused any permanent damage, but he’s not sure of that yet.

“The river level hasn’t dropped to the point that we can see it yet,” Ciesielski said.

City commissioners will consider water rate issues as part of their budget hearings this summer. Commissioners will set rates and approve a budget by mid-August.


somebodynew 5 years ago

Why doesn't the City take the money that was set aside for the SE treatment facility that is now not needed and use it to repair the facility that is being used??? Which by the way, should have been planned for since no of this is a surprize.

This just looks to me like a way to raise rates and "blame" it on nature instead of just saying they want more money and taking the heat for it. And yes, before anyone asks, my letter to the commissioners is being written.

Richard Heckler 5 years ago

Somebodynew is on target.

Ratepayers do not need a rate increase. We are being charged more for use of nature's water.

  1. Take the money from the millions in the general fund


  1. Take the money from the millions in one of the city reserve funds

Rates are tax dollars which means the city wants to raise OUR taxes without a vote!

NO to the tax increase suggestion!

3up3down 5 years ago

It would seem that any system that is in moving water is going to suffer damage over time. Repairs or even putting in a new intake was inevitable. Looking deep into the future needs to be a priority of this municipality, not having to continue to do 'knee jerk' reactions when the problem surfaces.

melott 5 years ago

  1. have you ever noticed that your water bill doesn't change much with how much water you use? might it help to charge heavy users? duh.
  2. “We were fortunate this didn’t happen in July or August when we had customers using large volumes of water,” said Philip Ciesielski, city assistant director of utilities.' Uh, how often do you need to water lawns when it is flooding? duh duh.

Adrienne Sanders 5 years ago

"have you ever noticed that your water bill doesn't change much with how much water you use? might it help to charge heavy users?"

I have noticed that, and it's b/c only a fraction of the bill is for actual water. The rest is for sewer/ disposal/ whatever it's called, over which I have no control at all. Drives me nuts.

Kontum1972 5 years ago

gee it seems like everyweek these Weasels are begging for money....did any of these clowns take a business management course or do they make up this stuff as they go ....?

Kontum1972 5 years ago

i saw plenty of auto sprinklers on when it was raining at a few of the banks in town....and other commercial orgs... in town...i dont take a dump in your tiolet why am i paying for it?

Mike Hoffmann 5 years ago

Exactly how are you paying for it?

KSManimal 5 years ago

Never ceases to amaze me that folks complain about having to pay for clean water, wastewater treatment, and trash service.

If any of you teabagger folks think you can go off the public system and supply those three services to yourself for less money than the city charges you....go for it.

Mike Hoffmann 5 years ago

Agreed. The entire country is milking an ageing Utility infrastructure that isn't going to go away if you ignore it or keep deferring paying for it until "next year." This isn't unique to Lawrence. Piping has to be replaced and plants have to be upgraded to keep up with new regulations and expansion. Cheap water isn't some God-given right, as much as we'd like it to be.

kernal 5 years ago

Buh, buh we have to pay for the Library expansion!

Let's see. The value of my home has gone down fifteen percent, my taxes have gone up, I have to help pay for a library expansion that I was against, I warned people that we would need the money for our infrastructure and here we are.

This is just the beginning folks.

kernal 5 years ago

Buh, buh we have to pay for the Library expansion!

Let's see. The value of my home has gone down fifteen percent, my taxes have gone up and I have to help pay for a library expansion that I was against. I warned people we would need that money for our infrastructure and here we are - already.

This is just the beginning folks.

Bob_Keeshan 5 years ago

If a rate increase were to be discussed, it should be an increase for heavy users.

They place the strain on the system, they should pay more.

Such a rate increase would have two possible benefits - one, it would increase revenues or two, it would decrease usage. Either would be a positive.

Fedupwithrates 5 years ago

Why is there need for increased rates? Looking at my water bill I used 1600 gallons for one person. Regardless of how much water you use, between fees and taxes, your bill is at least $35. I find that ridiculous for one person. I was technically only charged $8 for the water I used, so $35 in fees and $8 for water is $43 minimum a month. That is more per month than either gas or electric services. Find the money elsewhere for this renovation lawrence.

jafs 5 years ago

It's not just a "water" bill, it also includes charges for trash and sewer service.

That's 3 services.

50YearResident 5 years ago

Wilbur, I think you are onto the "real reason" for the new intake. Bowersock and the city are very tight. Remember the city rebuilt the dam to accomadate Bowersock so there would be enough water for the new electric plant. As I remember, in the lease agreement with Bowersock and the City, it was Bowersock's responsibility to maintain the dam at their expense. Lawrence city claimed they did the dam rebuild because of the water intake. Now, all of a sudden they need a new water intake anyway. there is more to this than meets the public eye.

nouseforaname 5 years ago

They are not building a new intake; they are replacing an existing one that is not currently functioning. And if you actually read the materials that our very transparent city government puts out during their yearly budget study sessions you would know that the Utilities department has identified this as a problem for at least the past three years and has asked for funding to fix it, but the City Commission has always allowed this can to get kicked farther down the road. Only now has the City Manager called attention to it because the fact that they had to take the whole plant offline because of a problem with the functional intake is a legitimate concern. If a fire broke out or anything that placed a high demand on the infrastructure and there was not enough water in the system to meet that demand then the integrity of the system could very easily be compromised (fire suppression can reduce the pressure in the system and would cause back siphonage which would allow bacteria, viruses, chemicals and all sorts of unwanted things to get sucked into the system). Plus, we really need two working intakes on the Kaw River since there are zebra mussels in there and they could also block the working intake.

Zachary Stoltenberg 5 years ago

Doesn't the city have insurance? I mean, if something went wrong with my house, something got clogged, and I had to come up with a chunk of change to repair it I would call my insurance agent. Yes there's a deductible, but that's why I have it, so I DON'T have to come up with a large sum of cash. Surely the city isn't stupid enough to not have protections in place for vital city services (i.e. water).

jafs 5 years ago

Interesting question.

I doubt it, but I'd be interested to know if anybody has any actual information about this idea.

50YearResident 5 years ago

I think the City is self insured. So they have to pay things Insurance premiums would pay for. However I think it's probably a wash. What they save by not paying premiums they spend in costs to repair.

Mike Hoffmann 5 years ago

Insurance? A building didn't burn down. An aged intake has been non-functional for several years. It needs to be replaced. Does your insurance pay when your house needs a new furnace?

introspector 5 years ago

that probably does need replaced but it isn't my fault the city left that pieced out for years and did nothing till the last minute... sounds like everyone has had a long time to come up with a plan... I personally cant afford to pay the water bill I already have so go ahead and raise the prices... then again if its been pieced out for years why not just put it off a little longer cause right now that doesnt seem like the best move to make considering the current melt down the economy is suffering... really need to scale the pros and cons on this one but, for the record, a furnace in a mans house is not even the same ball park as this busted water intake... its not even the same game!

nouseforaname 5 years ago

It is your fault in the sense that you are a stakeholder in the public utilities and yet you don't want to pay the actual cost it takes to run and sustain those utilities. Although we all share that blame - I'm not just pointing out you in specific.

And again, deferred maintenance will always cost more the longer you put it off. If something essentially is broken on your car but yet the car still works then sure, drive around as long as you can but eventually everything is going to quit working and the initial $500 fix now turns into a $3000 replacement. The same applies here. We can fix this one, or wait until they are both nonoperational and really be in a pickle.

Zachary Stoltenberg 5 years ago

If the furnace is covered under my policy then yes! I would compare this to a hail storm damaging your roof, you can repair or replace it but the city did nothing. Three hailstorms later the roof is toast and yes, my insurance would pay to replace it. Well there are holes in the city's roof and now they want to raise the rent to cover the cost of repairs. Self insured or not, if it's been an issue for the last 4 years then it's not a surprise. It's called differed maintenance and should have been dealt with long ago. What I was suggesting was that the city have a policy to cover the costs associated with catastrophic interruption of vital services.

newb 5 years ago

I thought intake water came from several wells along the sandy/silty banks of the Kansas river. Is surface water more difficult to treat without the natural pre-filtration that sandy sediments could provide? Are there several large pumps/wells along the river (i.e. one just west of the swing sets in Burcham Park)?

It would be interesting to tour the plant sometime if tours are offered to the public. Nice work to all involved getting the plant operational again.

nouseforaname 5 years ago

It's a public utilities department - of course the plants offer tours to the public. You just have to call the department and schedule a tour.

nouseforaname 5 years ago

Again, if people actually read the budget study session materials posted on the city's website then they would find that the City Commission did not fund any capital improvement projects within the Utilities department last year. None of them - even though the Utilities department has a very long list of capital improvement projects that need to be done. It is not poor planning at all - the Utilities department is very aware of what needs to be fixed/replaced within the department, but on the other hand, last year's City Commission was also very aware of the strains a rate increase would have on citizens. So they decided not to fund anything and, like I said before, that can got kicked a little farther down the road. However, the catch-22 with this is that deferred maintenance always, always, always ends up costing more the longer your put it off and who knows how long this has been on the radar and went unfunded. The reality is sooner or later we're going to have to pay for this in one way or another - either we fix the intake or we're paying for it elsewhere in the system. That is the nature of infrastructure and people need to realize it and maybe educate themselves about it.

Bob_Keeshan 5 years ago

Your insurance doesn't pay for your roof getting old. Your insurance doesn't pay for your pipes getting old. This is infrastructure, no insurance covers normal wear, tear, and aging.

It is bizarre the things some people project onto government entities.

Kat Christian 5 years ago

Seems to me it has been mis-management for the past several years. Why wasn't this intake fixed in prior years when the economy was in better shape? Now when things are tight the city wants to drain more money from us to pay for something we need that they should have repaired years ago. My water bill has already increased, anymore I'll be paying almost $100 for just 2 people. Guess the Greed disease that caused this economic downturn has trickled down to small communities. This is what happens when important things like this are mis-managed by procastination and excuses.

nouseforaname 5 years ago

No, it's not greed and it is not mismanagement, although I don't know exactly when the intake broke, I do know that the Utilities dept. wanted it fixed for at least 2-3 years and the City Commission did not fund it because they were looking out for the citizens (which is good - they should do that). It's hard to walk the line between adequate funding and what the public is actually willing to pay for - especially when the public is woefully ignorant of the realities of what needs to be funded and how it impacts the community and surrounding area. Gosh, people complain about their sewer bill but have no idea how much energy and resources it takes to turn their literal crap in to clean water. With regards to water and sewer - it's pretty much all magic to the public. Magic gets the water to the house and magic takes it away.

Adrienne Sanders 5 years ago

"Why wasn't this intake fixed in prior years when the economy was in better shape?"

Um, b/c the intake was in fine shape then and didn't need fixing? What they should have done is made an educated guess about when it would need maintenance, and set aside money for that across previous years, instead of "suddenly" needing the money "right now".

OldEnuf2BYurDad 5 years ago

Kansas successfully sued Colorado for taking too much water from the Arkansas River (our grandparents filed that lawsuit back in the days of butter churns). The way I see it, this unwanted extra water is runoff from the streets of Topeka. Can we blame this on Topeka?

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