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Village tackles water system

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One of the filters at the Village drinking water plant failed last month. The malfunction is being repaired at a minor cost to the Village. And while the Village asks that residents continue to conserve water where possible (minimizing lawn watering), the facility’s two other filters are keeping up with demand.

But to Village Water and Wastewater Superintendent Joe Bates, the filter breakdown is characteristic of the poor state of the drinking water plant that has not had a major upgrade since it was built in 1964.

Village leaders have talked about the problems at the plant since 2010 and over the years have run several engineering studies and cost estimates to inform their decision. This spring Village Council eliminated the option of abandoning the local plant and buying water from Springfield. Last week the Village convened with about six of the village’s largest water users to get a sense of their needs. And one of Council’s top goals this year is to complete a study of the options for either rehabilitating the existing plant or building a new plant with the option of softening and finally to make a decision on how to move forward.

According to Council President Karen Wintrow this week, Council also plans to have an engineering plan for the project this year. And as the new Village manager is expected to be named soon, he or she will have the opportunity to manage the project from the beginning.

“I would like to have a contract out with an engineer this year so that we can bid the project over the winter and start construction early next year,” Wintrow said.

On its agenda for the June 2 meeting is a short discussion of the information consulting engineer John Eastman has yet to provide, including less costly and less harmful ways of softening that don’t include sodium chloride, or salt. Eastman has already furnished a cost analysis that includes options from an upgrade of the existing plant (which does not allow softening) for a 20-year annual cost of $320,000, the cheapest option, to a new but slightly smaller plant with softening capability for a 40-year annual cost of $500,000, the most expensive option.

The general sense from the major users is that softened water is preferable, according to Wintrow. Those Village staff spoke to last week included Antioch College, Antioch University, Yellow Springs Schools, Xylem, Yellow Springs Brewery and Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman. Most of the large users already have their own water processing systems to mitigate the hard water, and those that don’t have regular repairs on boilers and other equipment. The hard water is costing them either way, according to Bristol. And though softening at the plant would increase the cost of Village water, the increase would be spread out across the whole village, he said, reducing the impact on any single user and eliminating the maintenance of individual softening units all over town.

According to Bristol, the staff also leans toward constructing a new plant. Bates believes that the higher cost of a new plant would be offset by reduced overall maintenance, as the study by Eastman shows.

“A new plant would be a lot more efficient, and those efficiencies would probably pay for the new plant over time,” Bates said.

Water rates to increase
The water plant upgrade is not the only capital project that will be paid out of the Village water fund in the near future. The water distribution system upgrade, which the Village has discussed for even longer than the plant upgrade and in 2010 made part of its five-year capital improvement plan, will also need to be addressed this year. That project includes two bottlenecks in the area of Antioch College as well as the south end of town, which need improvement for adequate fire fighting capability in those two areas. Though half of the $800,000 project is covered by an Ohio Public Works Commission grant, the other half may need to be paid by the Village.

That, coupled with the fact that the Village water fund is already stretched thin, means that a water rate increase is almost certain, Bates said. And if the Village doesn’t find any additional grants, Bates estimates the rates may have to double to fund the necessary work and maintain healthy reserves. However, Bristol and Wintrow both believe that the Village will likely find a way to reduce its costs so that a 50 percent water rate increase would be a worst-case scenario.

Even a 50 percent increase “neglects the possibility of future grants, low interest loans, and the possibility of tapping the nearly $3 million electric reserve, all of which are possible, plus the possibility of building a less costly treatment plant,” Bristol wrote in an email this week.

Meanwhile, as the old drinking water treatment plant chugs along, repairs are becoming the rule. The most recent filter malfunction was likely caused by cracks in the grout that holds the filter system together, according to Bates. The broken filter was taken off line in April and a full repair is expected to take another three to four weeks, he said. In the interim, the two other filters have increased their treatment flow by 50 percent to accommodate demand. Villagers are still asked to conserve water because without the third filter, the Village would have difficulty generating enough reserve for firefighting capability in the south end of town, which depends on water pressure from the plant.

While the filter repair is expected to cost $28,000, the remaining two filters, which were built at the same time, are likely to suffer from the same problem, Bates said. Replacing all three would cost upward of $150,000, which was not included in Eastman’s estimates. And if the Village decides to build a new plant in the end, any repairs to the old plant would be wasted, Bates said.

Facelift for lift station
The snakes that often visit the Village wastewater lift station share with Bates a common interest in water. And they were both present at the sewage station last week to promote the long awaited completion of the Village facility that pumps about a third of the village’s sewage uphill to the wastewater treatment plant (the rest is fed by the obliging force of gravity).

The $250,000 lift station upgrade was part of a plan to improve the wastewater collection system after the Village violated its pollutant discharge permit last August. Especially during heavy rains, some of the Village’s storm water drains inappropriately into the wastewater collection system, inundating the lift station — located at the foot of the U.S. 68 bridge just east of the Bryan Center — and causing raw sewage to spill into the Glen’s streams. (Two years ago the Village completed a major upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant on Grinnell Road in response to the same problem for the gravity-fed sewage.)

Now that the lift station is able to accommodate the bigger storm water flow, the Village has committed $50,000 each year for three years to separate the storm water and wastewater streams so that the Village isn’t treating storm water at the treatment plant. Council drafted those goals as part of a $68,000 CMOM study, for capacity, management, operation and maintenance, whose aim is to identify and repair leaky sewer pipes and help residents to direct their sump pumps and down spouts away from the wastewater collection system.

“I feel pretty good about where we’re at, with the wastewater plant squared away and now the lift station done,” Bates said. “If we get a decision made on the water plant, beyond CMOM and the bottleneck issues, our village is really not in that bad a shape compared to other communities.”

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