Bond would boost northeast water system

Sunday, October 26, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:25 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

As far as many residents of Columbia’s northeast side are concerned, very little is wrong with their water service. Toilets flush fine, showers don’t sputter much, and firefighters have no problems dousing fires.

But as Columbia grows, that could change.

On Nov. 4, city officials will ask voters to approve a $28.3 million bond issue, $6.4 million of which would pay for upgrades to ensure water flows remain consistent in Columbia’s “northeast pressure zone” — an area near Albert Oakland Park, bounded on the south by Interstate 70 and on the west by U.S. 763.

“Common sense tells you that Columbia’s going to keep growing,” Columbia Water and Light Chief Engineer Mike Schmitz said. “We have to do this one way or another.”

What it does

The money would buy the city a new pumping station and a large water main that Schmitz said would improve two things: flow, what firefighters need to douse a burning building; and pressure, the force that helps flush a toilet.

The pressure zone is the highest point in Columbia — effectively on the side of a rolling hill that slopes south toward the Missouri River. If the area were at the same elevation as Columbia’s south side, Schmitz said, the city wouldn’t have to worry so much about pumping upgrades.

An odd system

Instead, Columbia’s water flows work like runners sprinting uphill: They gush from the water treatment plant in McBaine but peter out as they crawl northeast. A booster station speeds them up again. As more customers hook into the city’s water supply, that push is no longer enough.

Without an extra nudge provided by the proposed pumping station, Schmitz said, shower sprays might start balking more. The water flows firefighters use to combat blazes also might weaken, he said.

Who will pay?

Somehow, Columbia will have to pay for a multimillion-dollar upgrade to northside pumping, Schmitz said. If the issue doesn’t pass Nov. 4, Schmitz said the city would do it piece by piece with more expensive rate increases.

Schmitz noted that growth within the city strains the system as much as growth from outside.

“Even if the city never annexed another foot of property, we’d still need to do these improvements to serve our existing customers,” Schmitz said.

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