What’s Going On With Water?

Last night, the City Council heard the first reading of the proposed water ordinances that would expand the City of Bloomington Utilities water treatment capacity, and install much needed water infrastructure, such as the redundant water line from the treatment plant to the City. As many of you know, this has been an ongoing discussion for several years, and recently two ordinances were brought forward to seek water rate increase approval from the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission (IURC), and to obtain bonding authority to fund the $42 million dollar project.

Since 2006, the Chamber’s Water and Sewer Team has studied this issue, offering their recommendations in the 2007 Infrastructure Task Force Report. The report outlines the Chamber’s support for the redundant water line to ensure the safety and availability of clean water to the City (including residential, commercial, and 10 wholesale customers that serve water corporations in the County). For several years, all of the aforementioned customers have relied on a single 36-inch transmission main to transport treated water approximately 8 miles from the water treatment plant (WTP) to the City. The 2003 Long Range Water System Capital Improvement Plan prepared by Black and Veatch states, “Any interruption in service, either at the WTP, along the transmission main, or with any of the critical ancillary water treatment facilities, for more than a few hours could result in a significant reduction or total suspension of water service to the CBU’s customers.” This improvement is undoubtedly crucial to guaranteeing the security of our water supply. The WTP expansion, however, was questioned in the 2007 report as to the necessity at the current time based on water usage and population data.

In 2008, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) sent an early warning letter to the City stating that processes at the WTP were nearing capacity. Newer population data shows that the Monroe County population will continue to grow at an average of 1% per year, and average day and peak day water usage numbers are on the rise. All indications are pointing to a water plant capacity expansion in the near future. The question remains, how to finance the estimated $42 million dollar project.

The two options that have been put on the table both carry heavy across-the-board increases on water rates. A 47% increase would allow for interest only payments while a 54% increase would amortize the bond, paying down both principal and interest. It should be noted, however, that any increase would only affect the water portion of the bill – which includes sewer, water, and storm water utility.

As these proposals make their way through City Council, the Chamber will be fully engaged in the discussion. The Water and Sewer Team has recently regrouped to analyze how this will impact business, which sends its findings on to the Chamber Advocacy Council, who recommends policy positions to the Chamber’s Board of Directors. And Larry Jacobs, our Government Relations Manager – City, will keep the Chamber plugged in at City Hall as he represents the business community at countless hours of City Council and business relevant Board and Commission meetings.

Stay tuned for updates as this issue progresses, and as always, contact your Advocacy Team to provide input on this and other business issues facing our community. Email mhutton@chamberbloomington.org or call 812-336-6381.