Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Water, sewer upgrades would tap wallets

February 12, 2013


Leaky pipes and a growing city may end up costing the average Lawrence homeowner about $500 in extra water and sewer bills over the next five years.

Lawrence city commissioners got the full pitch Tuesday afternoon for why water and sewer rates ought to rise to fix aging pipes and to build a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.

Commissioners didn’t agree to any new rates, but kept the issue of a rate increase alive by asking staff members to bring back additional information in the coming weeks.

“We have some facilities that are just worn out, or out of space,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.

Two large projects stand out in the plan proposed by city staff members: construction of a $54.7 million sewage treatment plant along the Wakarusa River south of Lawrence; and $19.4 million to fix deteriorating sewer pipes.

Work on the second sewage treatment plant would begin immediately in order for the plant to be operational in the next five years. Work on the sewer line project would take place over the next eight years, and the city proposes a host of other maintenance projects.

But commissioners were told Tuesday the projects can’t happen without a significant increase in rates. City officials are estimating the recommended plan will cause the average summer water bill for an average household to increase by about 6.5 percent, or about $4.40 per month.

Staff members, though, told commissioners rate increases will be needed in each of the next five years to pay for the program. The city estimates an average 4,000-gallon-per-month water user would see the average monthly water bill increase by $13.66 per month at the end of the five year period. During the course of the five-year period, the city estimates such a household would pay an extra $453 for water and sewer compared to if the rates did not change.

City staff members told commissioners there were risks if the city didn’t make the improvements, particularly the sewage treatment plant.

City Manager David Corliss said the sewage treatment plant — which would be built just south of the Wakarusa River, roughly across the river from where O’Connell Road dead ends — would meet three important needs: It would give the city greater capacity to handle wet weather storm flows that come through the plant; it would relieve a bottleneck of sewage that accumulates in holding basins and pipes in the 31st Street corridor; and it would give the city more capacity to add homes and businesses in future years.

“If we grow our population by 1.5 percent per year, we believe we’ll be out of capacity by the end of the decade,” Corliss said.

Corliss also told commissioners there was a risk in waiting too long to start work on a new treatment plant because it likely will take five years to design and build the project.

City commissioners were presented with the rate scenarios and service warnings last year, but commissioners thus far have been reluctant to commit to a rate increase.

Commissioners have struggled with the idea of how much the city has been growing. During the last decade, the Census Bureau found the city grew by less than 1 percent per year, but some city planning estimates have contended the growth rate was higher.

On Tuesday, commissioners asked staff members for more information about how much of the projected costs of the proposed plan are related to addressing existing conditions versus those related to accommodating new growth.

Commissioners also will need to decide whether they want to try to add equipment that would address occasional taste and odor issues that arise in the city’s drinking water when algae levels are high at Clinton Lake or the Kansas River.

The necessary equipment— estimated at about $18 million — isn’t included in the staff’s recommended plan. But Corliss said it could easily be added to the plan if a future study shows it would be effective.

But the additions would require additional rate increases. If the taste and odor equipment is added to staff’s recommended plan the total increase in water and sewer bills over a five year period would be about $520 for an average home.

Schumm said he would like the current City Commission to deal with the water and sewer rate issue before the upcoming city elections in April.

“It will be up for debate sometime in March, I believe,” Schumm said.


Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 2 months ago

This fits right in with the Journal-World's recent editorial on the Ogallala reservoir, and the need to use less water.

Where is the emphasis in the city council and elsewhere on the need to grow drought-resistant plants, plant less grass, use less water?

Aging pipes I can understand, but if we really took into effect drought-resistant plants - and limited the amount of grass people could have throughout the city - would we really need a second water plant?

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

We would because the one we have now is falling apart. I totally agree with the drought resistant plants and less grass, but I doubt very seriously if very many people are going to be willing to do this. When I was growing up the yard was where the kids and dogs played, now it is a lawn that is carefully cultured to be the best on the block, no matter the cost.

George_Braziller 2 years, 2 months ago

I've eliminated most of my lawn and replaced it with perennial gardens, a lot of woody herbs that like it dry, native plants and pea gravels paths. Each year I add another bed and take out more lawn. I have one small patch of grass I water but I let the rest do dormant during the heat of summer. Takes me less than 30 minutes to get off the sofa, start the mower, mow the entire yard and be back on the sofa.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

We need more people like you. May I ask how much work and money was put into making these changes? Perhaps that is what is keeping others from doing this.

I try to only leave the sofa when it is time to go to bed :-)

George_Braziller 2 years, 2 months ago

I love gardening so I don't consider it work. I budget about $100 - $200 a year for plants and things like mulch and gravel so maybe $3,000 total over the last 20 years. But I also buy perennial plants at the end of the season when they're on sale. They may not look good that year but they'll be fine the next.

It takes me a couple of weeks in the spring for clean-up and pruning because I do all the work myself but after that it's pretty much maintenance-free for the rest of the year other than pulling a few weeds during the summer and mowing.

Mike Hoffmann 2 years, 2 months ago

It's a wastewater plant, not a water plant.

LadyJ 2 years, 2 months ago

Now here is what I would like to see. The figures on how many people have their water turned off every month for nonpayment of their bill.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

You know, I have never thought about that. In the winter months you hear a lot about electricity and gas being turned off but not water and you really need that more than the other two.

LadyJ am I right in thinking that you know Roe? He hasn't been on here for the longest time. Any news you can share with the public? If I am being intrusive, I apologize, I am just a little worried about him.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 2 months ago

Draining Wallets

Reckless planning is draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes. Why does city government protect the real estate industry instead of taxpayers? It's OUR money.

Reckless planning has been rightly blamed for many things: destroying green space, increasing air and water pollution, fracturing our neighborhoods and forcing us to drive gridlocked roads for every chore. But there is one consequence that usually goes unmentioned - developers are draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

Reckless growth is the result of over four decades of subsidies paid for by the American taxpayer. The subsidies range from the obvious to the obscure and include big projects-like the billions we spend on new roads as well as smaller ones-like the tax-breaks that encourage businesses to move to the edge of town thus killing the downtown business district.

We've subsidized reckless planning at such a basic level for so long, that many taxpayers believe the status quo is actually fair and neutral. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of reckless planning sponsored by the development executives.

Reckless growth definitely wastes our tax money. It pulls economic resources away from the downtown business district and spreads them out over sparse developments away from the core. This is economic displacement which prevents solid and consistent economic growth.

Taxes subsidize millions of dollars worth of new roads, new water and sewer lines, new schools and increased police and fire protection at the expense of the needs of the core business district. This leads to degradation of our older neighborhoods and higher taxes.

Again why does city government protect the real estate industry instead of taxpayers? It's OUR money.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 2 months ago

Poor Merrill, maybe you can read all about it in the new library. You can ride the empT to get there! WOOT!

Paul Wilson 2 years, 2 months ago

"Again why does city government protect the real estate industry instead of taxpayers? It's OUR money."

Because you don't pay enough tax to fund your spending. They protect the real estate industry so that they will build more commercial. Then they can bilk 'em to fund your liberal spending Merrill. I think it's time you stop complaining and run for city council. Ah...but complaining is much easier isn't it?

William McCauley 2 years, 2 months ago

We don't need all that stuff, water plant, ha.... no we need to fund the rock chalk park project... and a retirement village! Old people don't need to worry about sewage plants, heck they all use depends.....

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

Yes, but then where do all the used Depends go?

Paul Wilson 2 years, 2 months ago

Get this...I have a little over five acres most of which is timber. I wanted to install a well strictly for watering of landscape and/or yard. The Douglas County health department will not let me drill a well. They say they're not even letting larger acreage get permits either. We are about 5 miles south and west of Target. So...last summer, when even drought resistant plants were stressed, I had to use treated water from RWD 5. So, if any of you know anyone who will drill a well without a permit, feel free to give them my e-mail for a job.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

"People who drill water wells for their personal use (and not for larger-scale uses such as irrigation) do not need to apply for a water right, and thus generally do not need to interact with the DWR."

"KDHE does require that water-well contractors chlorinate wells upon completion of drilling,..." Just thought this was interesting.

Are they not giving permits because the water table is being lowered so rapidly?

Richard Heckler 2 years, 2 months ago

"Leaky pipes and a growing city may end up costing the average Lawrence homeowner about $500 in extra water and sewer bills over the next five years."

Another tax increase ..... only $12.25 per month for the next five years. In addition to other new rate/tax increases along the way. Plus all of the others we've had in the past 20 years. Yet it is packaged and delivered as if none had ever taken place.

jafs 2 years, 2 months ago

Is the average water use for a single person really 4,000 gallons/month? Sounds outrageously high to me.

We have all the modern conveniences, dishwasher, washer, etc. and we use less than a third of that, by using water saving shower-heads and faucet aerators, combined with appliances that don't use a ton of water.

And, of course, we don't water our yard unless absolutely necessary.

I wonder if people were given the choice between voluntary conserving water use, and paying more for these upgrades, which they would choose?

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

Just wondering, is there a law that requires a homeowner to have a nice green lawn and landscaping?

bad_dog 2 years, 2 months ago

Just wondering, is there a law that requires a homeowner to have a scorched earth lawn and knee-high weeds?

Thistles, cockleburrs and dandelions are pretty and drought resistant, too. Let's plant some of those!

bad_dog 2 years, 2 months ago

I like a nice lawn too, but neighborhood kids play in mine as well as others without me freaking out over it. I keep mine up becaus I prefer the look and because I'd rather add to the property values in the area. In my experience, people that don't care for their yards frequently also don't maintain their homes or have broken down cars on jackstands in their drive or parked on the street for months...

BTW, just because you don't water doesn't mean you don't have to mow. For example, take a drive down 9th St. on either side of Lawrence Ave and you will see some yards that are seldom if ever mowed and likely have never been edged. The freakin' grass is overgrowing the curb clear down into the gutter.

I don't want to live that way or be surrounded by that. If you do, there's plenty of places to call home.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

bad_dog, I wasn't planning on going quite that far. I was thinking about having flower beds or prairie grass in the front yard, having a neat, trim yard/lawn but with a minimum of water usage. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

jafs 2 years, 2 months ago


There are some pretty basic requirements - you can't let your grass grow up over a foot I believe, or they'll bother you about it.

bad_dog 2 years, 2 months ago

Last year was one of the worst I recall from that perspective. Like I said above, just take a drive down 9th St and you'll see some of the worst yard upkeep I routinely see. It looked as if some of those yards weren't mowed for months. Enforcement? Not so much.

jafs 2 years, 2 months ago

Call the city and report it - then see what happens.

Katara 2 years, 2 months ago

They are talking households for the 4000 gal./mo., not individuals.

jafs 2 years, 2 months ago


Is that a 2 person household, 4 person, etc.? or do they just average them all out?

Katara 2 years, 2 months ago

I think they are using the typical household of 4 members for average usage but I could not find any info on the city's website to confirm. A family of 4 is what a lot of places use when talking about typical usage.

jafs 2 years, 2 months ago

Thanks - I'll call them and ask.

Seems unlikely that would be a 4 person household - then we'd be using more water than average, with all of our water saving stuff.

Well, I checked the website and found they say each person uses 2,000 gallons/month on average, not including exterior watering. So we're down to about 1/2 the average, rather than 1/3 - still good, though, right?

Wasn't particularly easy to find - it's a funny website.

Also, they say you should use garbage disposals to grind up food particles from pots/pans and dishes - I thought that's exactly what they're for???

Richard Heckler 2 years, 2 months ago

In essence the retail dollars are simply NOT available. Why do city officials not understand that without the necessary supply of retail dollars new retail will simply become a liability to local taxpayers? It cannot be more than it is.

The Lawrence KU population is gone 90-120 days a year which puts Lawrence at about a 65,000 population. Still a small town pretending to be KCMO/JOCO.

cowboy 2 years, 2 months ago

The annual shell game of where did the revenue go to begins. The city transfers millions from water revenue to pay for City Hall admin costs. I'd like to see 10 year audit of what they said the increases were for versus where they actually went. Were getting 6% increases every year since i can remember and have the same facilities.

Cap the sewer charges and tie them to actual usage. If there was an advantage to the city they would have done this already. That tells me real quick that the current method is advantage city or a loss for the ratepayer.

Charles L Bloss Jr 2 years, 2 months ago

A great way to attract retirees living on a fixed income !!

bad_dog 2 years, 2 months ago

So is a failing sewer & water system...

"If you can flush it, they will come..."

Anthony Mall 2 years, 2 months ago

How can people support tax dollars to repair bike lanes but ignore the water issue??? 4 dollars or 13 more dollars a month to make sure the old outdated system gets fixed seems pretty reasonable... The alternative could be to wait until water mains break and then listen to people complain then...

Centerville 2 years, 2 months ago

If we're each going to pay an extra $500 for something necessary, let's make it optional to pay another $240 for curbside recycling.

Caz Snwot 2 years, 2 months ago

Out of all the ideas to "improve" this town I have to say this is the one I prefer the most. I don't much care for a sports center, a retirement village, a new library, a new police station, or a a "no tax" plan to improve our schools.... but if I have to pay a few dollars extra for my water so that the pipes can be improved and we can have a more modern sewage system, I'm for it. Most of our countries infrastructure is collapsing. We're living in a world that hasn't seen real improvement since the 1950's. So, if the city council wants to charge a little more for water and sewage to improve the plant I can handle that.

50YearResident 2 years, 2 months ago

Fix what is really in need of repair, that is the Commissioner form of City Government. How can a city as big as Lawrence opperate efficiently when they change Commissioners every 2 to 4 years and the Mayor every year? They all have an agenda they want to install and then they are out again with no repercussions for what the did or didn't do while serving. We have no long term people that are responsible for keeping the books out of the red.

Bob Forer 2 years, 2 months ago

Mark my words. Just as the current city commission is in a rush to push through the rec center before the new commission takes office, they will sit on this issue and pawn off the dirty job of raising water rates on the new commission.

Mike Wagner 2 years, 2 months ago

Make the people that water their lawns pay for it, and leave us poor folks alone!

bad_dog 2 years, 2 months ago

We already do. Through the nose. You can trust me on that...

pizzapete 2 years, 2 months ago

Unlike the recreation center, at least they're being honest in this case about needing to raise taxes and fees to pay for it. They'd like to have us believe that we don't have to worry about a property tax increase to pay for the new 25 million recreation center, the 75 million worth of new roads, street lights, and sewers it'll need or the added maintenance costs it will bring. According to our city commission we have all the money we need right now for the recreation center because we haven't had to spend that money to improve or even maintain our existing roads, sewers, police stations, and the like. So, all that money we saved in the past can now be used to pay the 100 million the recreation center will cost us without a property or sales tax increase. When something like existing sewers or a police station come up, well sure, I guess that's when we'll raise property taxes, sales taxes, and other fees, but not for the recreation center, rest assured we've already got that paid for.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 2 years, 2 months ago

They have not even told us about the funding needed for the new homeless shelter, Lawrence Arts Center and the other places that have their hands out further than their arms can reach.

bearded_gnome 2 years, 2 months ago

Lawrence city commissioners got the full pitch Tuesday afternoon for why water and sewer rates ought to rise to fix aging pipes and to build a new sewage treatment plant south of the Wakarusa River.

Commissioners didn’t agree to any new rates, but kept the issue of a rate increase alive by asking staff members to bring back additional information in the coming weeks.

“We have some facilities that are just worn out, or out of space,” Mayor Bob Schumm said.


if there are '94-tax dollars available to build the NWrec center/sports village combo, run it at a loss to the city, then that mney could certainly instead be used to take care of more pressing needs like these!!!

stop raising the city water/sewer/trash bill. it seems like every time I watch a city commish meeting there's a new proposal to prop up that bill once again, and yet once again still more!!!

stop it! this city is wasting money, throwing it away. meanwhile, our pipes leak, rust, and our sewers decay. our roads are 1/5th broken. and that's an improvement.

oh yeah, we really need that high dollar northwest thingy, we just might not be able to put water in its toilets or flush them when they're used!

bearded_gnome 2 years, 2 months ago

and, the constant push to increase our bills wears pretty thin on those of us with small incomes.

to hear city staff sometimes, it seems they think city residents' wallets are an unlimited resource, bottomless.

I agree with the poster above: I should be able to opt out* of the recycling charge.

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