City asks for bonds for renovation of water system

Sunday, October 26, 2008 | 8:30 p.m. CDT; updated 9:48 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 29, 2008

COLUMBIA — A map of Columbia freckled with multi-colored tags shows where renovations and additions to the water system would take place if the city votes on Nov. 4 to finance them with $38.9 million in bonds. The map also details the projects and shows what would be undertaken at the given locations.

The renovations were designed with the six-year goal of "getting more water where it needs to go," said Connie Kacprowicz of Columbia's Water and Light utility.

Official ballot language for City Proposition 1

CITY PROPOSITION 1 Shall the City of Columbia, Missouri issue its Water and Electric System Revenue Bonds in the amount of Thirty Eight Million Nine Hundred Forty Thousand Dollars ($38,940,000.00) for the purpose of extending, expanding, improving, repairing, replacing and equipping the City-owned waterworks and electric systems?

The authorization of the bonds will authorize the City to fix, establish, maintain and collect rates and charges for the use and service provided by the City through its Waterworks and Electric Systems, including all extensions and improvements thereto hereafter constructed or acquired by the City, in addition to the other rates and charges for such services provided by law, as will produce income and revenues sufficient to provide funds to pay the costs of operation and maintenance of the Waterworks and Electric Systems and the principal of and interest on the bonds as they become due and to retire the same within thirty-five (35) years from the date thereof, and to provide for the establishment of reasonable reserves therefor.

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The proposed renovations for the next six years are presented in the following sections according to their color on the map:

Increased distribution flow, shown in red, would be accomplished by adding mains, or large distribution pipes, of up to 24 inches in diameter allowing water to move faster and increasing its flow farther from the source.

The red locations would also include the "closing of loops," a term used to describe the elimination of dead ends in the piping system. Closing the loops would increase the efficiency of the system by allowing the water to move continuously through the pipes instead of getting caught in the dead ends.

Also, trihalomethanes, carcinogens in the city's drinking water, are thought to be less prevalent in continuously moving water, Kacprowicz said.

Comprising a bulk of the project, distribution flow renovations would cost more than $20 million, or about half of the bond.

Shown in blue are the locations of water main replacements where pipes have shown higher incidence of breakage in the last few years.

"Some of the mains on Broadway are over 50 years old," Manager of Water Operations Floyd Turner said. Mains would be replaced on Broadway and Business Loop 70.

The older pipes have shown smaller leaks and breakage with higher frequency in the last few years, Kacprowicz said. This indicates an age-related issue because the pipes are breaking down more often.

"The smaller leaks are harder to find and contain, but just as worthy of attention," Kacprowicz said.

Water and Light has not yet tallied the number of breakages, but said they are increasing in frequency.

The funding for this project is about $2.7 million.

Shown in green are fire flow projects, which are mostly around the East Campus neighborhood, where the replacement of water mains would bring fire flows up to residential standards. The renovations would allow water to move at a higher volume through the mains.

"The main difference here would be the amount of gallons of water per minute," Battalion Chief Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department said. "That's more water out of the hydrants, more water out of the hoses and more water on the fire."

The Fire Department is rated by the Insurance Service Organization with a 3 out of 10, with a 1 being the best, and these renovations could help the department reach a 2.

Sapp said that the current rating is "exceptional" but that a better rating could lead to slightly lower insurance for the city's homeowners. He said that fire flows are not the only factor, but that they could contribute to those lower insurance rates by helping firefighters do their job.

"I know $40 million is a lot of money, but the fire and water departments worked well together and we made the best package we could," he said. "We all recognize that these renovations would help us maintain the standards set down by the International Fire Code."

Fire flow renovations account for $1.6 million of the bond.

Shown in orange are six schools — Jefferson and West junior highs as well as West Boulevard, Field, New Haven and Ridgeway elementary schools — that would be affected by renovations.

$1.3 million would go toward replacing mains near the schools and renovating hydrants to meet commercial standards.

"Most of the schools were built in residential areas and only meet those requirements," Kacprowicz said. The renovations would allow the schools to meet the required commercial standards of fire flow.

"Commercial standards require 300 feet between hydrants and 1,500 gallons of water per minute through the mains," Sapp said. "Residential standards only require 500 feet between hydrants and 800 gallons per minute."

"Schools weren't required to follow commercial standards, but now they are, and we have to keep up," he said. "A higher flow helps us in so many ways when it comes to reaching the fire and getting the water there."

"Right now, we have excellent water supply, but to make up for growth and to meet today's standards, we have to go further," Sapp said. "It's a safety issue that needs to be addressed."

Purple dots represent the locations of water production projects, including three new alluvial wells at the Missouri River bottoms at McBaine.

"There's been an increase in demand for water," Kacprowicz said.

In 2007, the peak daily demand of water used in Columbia was 23.83 million gallons. By 2014 ,that number is expected to reach 31.3 million gallons, and by 2028, it's expected to almost double to 60.25 million gallons per day.

Right now, the maximum daily capacity of the system is 30 million gallons per day, Kacprowicz said. The water production projects are intended to increase that capacity, she said, but data is unavailable at this time for the actual number.

The new wells and other projects, including four new backup generators for use during power outages, are included in the $2.7 million allotted for this part of the project.

Citywide annual maintenance projects, which are not on the map, to close loops, replace mains and perform other necessary renovations account for $9.3 million, or about a quarter of the bond. This includes projects similar to the ones above but which may come up in the future.

This part of the bond would also contribute to differential payments to contractors when the city requires a more expensive option.

The ballot issue also includes contingency funds of $600,000 that would deal with unexpected costs as well as possibly contribute to more research and development in studying triholomethanes, Water and Light Director Kraig Kahler said.

Bond financing for $500,500 would round out the $38.9 million.

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joe shmo October 27, 2008 | 8:16 a.m.

What? No mention of who is going to pay for this “$39 Million upgrade?” I wonder what kind of rate increase pays off $39 Million.
This really sounds like poor management to me. If all these things really need to be done, why all at the same time under one logroll loan? Why have the managers not increased rates in the past according to the need?
Also, as far as the trihalomethanes, the latest study has shown that the water is MUCH better than it was initially. Even mention of the trihalomethanes sounds too much like scare tactics to me, "trihalomethanes...are THOUGHT to be less prevalent in continuously moving water", no proof, just scare tactics.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr October 27, 2008 | 8:31 a.m.

joe shmo I find it hard to believe but I share your concern on this proposal as well.

Yes where will the money come from as it is obvious your tax rates will go up somewhere to pay for this monumental project.

Yes the Carcinogen levels in our waters are something to worry about but what about all of the other trace elements that are not even tested for? Will this monumental project start the process of testing for those things as well?

(Report Comment)
John Schultz October 27, 2008 | 10:52 a.m.

Joe, looks like this issue was split into two separate articles, the rate information is here:

(Report Comment)
joe shmo October 27, 2008 | 11:51 a.m.

Ok so this explains who pays for the $39 Million (we do) but what kind of monkey math is this? As far as I know, borrowing money costs more than paying out of pocket. Econ 101 – borrowing money requires a percentage to be paid in interest vs. paying out of pocket = no money being paid in interest. According to this article, NOT borrowing $39 Million is going to cost the residents of Columbia MORE on their utility bill – how can that be? Furthermore, the $28 Million in bonds we approved in 2003 partly went to a new pump station that has yet to be operational. This further supports my opinion of poor management if every 5 years the city water department wants us to give them $28.3 – $38.9 million.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand October 27, 2008 | 5:28 p.m.

Borrowing money often does cost more than paying out of pocket -- but not always. For example, at the rate the cost of concrete, steel and other construction materials keeps increasing, it can be cheaper to borrow the money and do as much as possible now than to pay as you go. In other words, the percentage increase in materials costs is higher than the interest rate on the bonds.

(Report Comment)

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