Archive for Friday, November 2, 2012

Town Talk: Water line breaks up 80 percent in city, more than $72M of lines to replace by 2030; KU duo proposes plan to reuse more than a dozen trees to be cut down by library project

November 2, 2012


News and notes from around town:

• There has been no shortage of big-dollar ideas to talk about at Lawrence City Hall in recent months. A $19 million library expansion project, a proposed $25 million recreation center/youth fieldhouse, more than $10 million worth of pending infrastructure improvements at the former Farmland Industries site, and about $30 million worth of facilities and staffing needs being lobbied for by the Police Department have been some of the more visible projects or proposals.

But there is one big-ticket item that has had a lower profile — low as in below the ground.

There’s a new report out at City Hall that highlights an issue that staff members have been talking about for awhile now: There are 87 miles of water lines that need to be replaced in the city between now and 2030. That is 18 percent of all water lines in the city, and it is estimated it would cost $72.3 million in today’s dollars to replace the pipes.

As I noted, this issue hasn’t snuck up on city staff. I’ve heard City Manager David Corliss talk several times about his concerns related to underground infrastructure. But the issue is how to pay for it.

If the city followed the recommendation of its consultants, it would have to set aside a little more than $4 million a year for the next 17 years (none of this is adjusted for inflation) to replace the aging pipes. Another option mentioned by the consultant is to stretch the replacement period out to 2045, which would reduce the amount of money the city would have to come up with right now.

But it also may create more problems in the meantime. That’s the real point the new report from City Hall is trying to drive home: The city’s deferred maintenance on waterlines is starting to create real-life problems above ground.

The number of waterline breaks has increased by nearly 80 percent since 2009. Last year the city had 180 waterline breaks. So far, the city has responded to 160 breaks this year. Many of the breaks have been disruptive.

In July, there was a water main break that cut off water service to Del Monte’s pet food plant, the Kmart Distribution Center and other businesses and homes in northern Lawrence. Del Monte and Kmart shut down for the day, and the two businesses estimated they lost about $60,000 due to the work stoppage.

In early August, the majority of Kansas University’s main campus was without water for a day. A series of breaks along 23rd Street in August and October caused 22 businesses to close for up to six hours at a time during peak business times.

In September, a water main break near 5200 Clinton Parkway left 108 residential customers without water service, plus the KU Tennis Center, which was hosting a tournament at the time.

Then on Sept. 24, the same line that broke in July near Del Monte’s pet food plant broke again. This time Del Monte estimated the down time cost the company a little more than $25,000, although Kmart kept its distribution center open by renting portable toilets and buying bottled water for employees.

The issue now is what will city leaders try to do to fix the infrastructure problems. When a report came out several years ago that shed light on how badly the city’s street system was deteriorating, city leaders convinced the public to support a new infrastructure sales tax.

That won’t be the fix this time. A more likely one is higher water rates. City staff members recommended a water rate increase that ranged from 4 percent to 6 percent depending on several variables. But city commissioners balked at the rate increase, which has been their inclination the last couple of years.

That was in late summer, and staff members said they would bring back a new set of recommendations for the commission to consider. Those recommendations haven’t yet been presented.

Part of the problem is the issue goes beyond old water lines. There also are at least three other big-ticket items looming in the city’s water system: 1. More than $6 million worth of repairs to the water intake at the Kaw Water Treatment plant. 2. A multimillion-dollar waterline project to extend a second supply of water into North Lawrence. Currently, all of North Lawrence relies on just one water line that crosses the Kansas River under the downtown Kaw bridges. 3. An expensive but unknown fix to correct taste and odor problems that have been occurring over the last couple of summers.

It seems unlikely that a rate increase will be passed in time to begin 2013, but the city has the flexibility to increase rates during the middle of the year, if desired. The question I have is whether city commissioners will choose to tackle this before the April City Commission elections.

Whether they do, here’s betting that water rates and the deteriorating condition of the city’s water system becomes a growing political issue.

• Speaking of growing, here’s something that won’t be growing for much longer: The approximately one dozen trees that currently line the site of the Lawrence Public Library.

The $19 million expansion project will require pretty much all those mature trees to be removed. (Between the tons and tons of paper books on the shelves and now this, libraries must really hate trees.)

But city officials are poised to approve a unique program to at least try ensure that those trees live on in one form or another. Mark Jakubauskas, a research associate professor at the Kansas Biological Survey, and Matthew Burke, an associate professor of sculpture at KU, have proposed a plan to convert the trees into furniture and art.

The idea is that once the trees are cut down, construction crews would save the trunks of any that are greater than eight inches around. Jakubauskas and Burke then would have the trunks sawed into lumber and properly dried.

Artists and craftsmen then would submit proposals to use the lumber for projects. A jury would select several of the proposals, the works would be made, and then they would be exhibited and sold at an auction, with proceeds benefiting the Friends of the Library organization.

The pair estimates that there are at least a dozen oaks, sycamores and ash trees that could produce about 1,000 board feet of usable lumber.

City commissioners are scheduled to approve the proposal at their Tuesday meeting, which has a special start time of 5 p.m. due to the elections.

I could envision the project creating maybe a nice reading desk, or a bookcase, and I’m sure there are possibilities for unique sculptures. But wait a second. This note has mysteriously dropped from this beautiful tree next to the library. It appears the tree has a suggestion.

It suggests a fancy, ornate carrying case … for a Kindle.

It appears the battle between trees and libraries continues. Have a good weekend.


Keith Richards 5 years, 7 months ago

I am almost sure the water main break on the KU campus was the result of contractor error and had nothing to do with aging pipes.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 7 months ago

You may be correct. I don't know many details of the KU problem. The report, though, labels the problems as the result of a failed valve on campus. Thanks, Chad

muddfoot55 5 years, 7 months ago

Seems like water supply and police should take the priority over Farmland, and a rec area/fieldhouse. Replacing outdated waterlines should be addressed each and every year instead of waiting till they fail. People and businesses don't fair too well with out water.

MarcoPogo 5 years, 7 months ago

Why doesn't the city have Fritzel move the trees to another location, then reassemble them on the new library site when it's ready?

kernal 5 years, 7 months ago

You trust Fritzel to keep them alive?

Shane Garrett 5 years, 7 months ago

They would be alive, perhaps smaller and not really the same trees.

kufan1146 5 years, 7 months ago

Having functional water lines/delivery seems like one of the best reasons to raise a bill 4-6%. I'd be fine with paying that extra dollar every month to assure that everyone has access to a functional water system. Sometimes you've got to realize that the most necessary (read: not a new library or rec center) must take precedence over pretty new projects. Deferring maintenance is never a good idea... it sure would cost the City a whole lot more if Del Monte kept getting water main breaks and decided to move their plant elsewhere for reliable service, wouldn't it?

kernal 5 years, 7 months ago

Gee, imagine that! The infrastructure needs fixing and it's going to cost millions. It's not like no one piped up and said anything about it.

A weak infrastructure means no viable growth. Save that one in your memory banks.

BDG1320 5 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, the city should have more liquid assets to address problems like this.

scaramouchepart2 5 years, 7 months ago

This city has spent money right and left on development projects, because, wait, the developer can't afford to build it. The money we spend on incentives, even ones we will get paid back someday about 20 years from now, is money not spent on maintaining the infrastructure. Now 25 million up front for the rec center. We need all these expensive items to what, to attract new business? No established or real business that wants to invest in this town will come here if we won't maintain our infrastructure. We pride ourselves on being in the black, but we aren't. The books may not be in red, but the tax payers are being snubbed, while our tax dollars are spent to keep a very small group of businessmen rich, not even just solvent, but rich at the taxpayers expense. Our infrastructure and schools should come before development. Our community needs, for instance code enforcement, should come first.
The money paid to developers does not improve the jobs situation. Look where we have spent our tax dollars. Part time, low wages jobs. We have enough. Jobs is a word used by those who want to stop the taxpayers from realizing what is really going on.

Currahee 5 years, 7 months ago

Raise sales taxes and property taxes. We all know youre going to do it anyway and then keep the tax after repairs are made for 4 more athletic complexes. Whats another measley 80 million?

Norm Jennings 5 years, 7 months ago

With the $$ spent on the interest on the "T" debt...maybe we can arrange for rides to another town with working water lines when we need a drink?

LWbored 5 years, 7 months ago

The story about water line pipes is shocking. Please do more stories about this! I can't believe how much this is affecting local businesses. This is how cities go bankrupt.

gccs14r 5 years, 7 months ago

How much money has the city siphoned out of the water department for other purposes? Before raising rates, restore the misdirected funds. And again, no rec center until critical infrastructure needs have been met.

Budgets_Smudgets 5 years, 7 months ago

And the city was going to give away $4 in water fund money for the original rec center to pay for the extension of utilities west of K-10.

Lathrup 5 years, 7 months ago

Like I have been saying all along, FIX THE ROADS, and the water pipes, and the electrical systems before spending a penny on a "I don't need it, nor does anyone else I talked to" sports complex.

bearded_gnome 5 years, 7 months ago


KUfan above is WRONG! do not raise rates for this! the city has already been raising water rates, making life more difficult for people on limited and fixed incomes.

first, fire the sustainability sob sister officer and save that salary. second, whenever KU flushes its toilet, on school days or game days, where does that go??? hmmm??? maybe we aren't being paid enough for the privilege of processing KU's toilet flush.
stop wasting money in legal dept.
do we really need a new sport complex if we cannot supply ourselves with water?
stop wasting money on antipedstrian roundabouts.

now, there, I've just saved the city a ton of money.

thanks, and I did it fer free too.

your welcome.

bearded_gnome 5 years, 7 months ago

Okay, if Fritzel moves the library trees sure he will but they'll then be ...

zombie trees.

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