Council to discuss water bond

The bond is the largest ever proposed by the Water and Light Department.
Thursday, June 21, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:44 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A 30-year-old plant, broken water mains and a growing number of residents are all reasons why Columbia’s Water and Light Department needs upgrades.

In April 2008, voters might be asked to approve the largest water bond that Columbia’s Water and Light Department has ever proposed.

By the numbers

$28.5 million: Bond for 2003 $44 million: 2008 total bond request $14 million (of the $44 million): Water main replacements or upgrades $6 million (of the $44 million): Improving water pressure in northeast Columbia $1.1 million (of the $44 million): Improving electrical equipment to reduce outages 18 to 19 percent: Rate increase for utility customers over the life of the bond $3 to $4: Average customer’s monthly rate increase to pay back the bond

If the City Council approves the proposal, the $44 million bond would be used for a “laundry list of projects,” Water and Light spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said. The department hopes to complete more than 70 projects over the next five years.

Brian Ash, president of the Tenth, Hitt and Locust Neighborhood Association, said he doesn’t think the size of the bond is as big of a deal to voters as rate increases are.

Water and Light customers would see an 18 to 19 percent rate increase to pay back the bond.

The rate increase would be distributed over a number of years and would result in $3 to $4 more on the average customer’s monthly water bill.

“That doesn’t seem like too large of a number,” Ash said. “I don’t think that will seem out of line in people’s eyes.”

John Windsor, Water and Light manager of rates and fiscal planning, said that most of the projects will have to be done at some point.

Dan Dasho, director of the department, presented the bond proposal at the City Council retreat earlier this month, and the council decided to start looking over the projects this year. By January 2008, the City Council will have gone over each project “with a fine-tooth comb to come up with a final figure,” Kacprowicz said. It is possible for the council to only approve some of the projects, which would reduce the cost of the bond.

Traditionally, the department tries to pay for large projects through bonds every five years. In 2003, voters approved a $28.5 million bond that went mostly to projects to expand the Water Treatment Plant. This bond would be more focused on getting more water to residents, Kacprowicz said.

The largest portion of the 2008 bond would go toward water main replacements or upgrades.

Because of Missouri’s extreme temperatures and clay-based soil, there’s a lot of movement in the ground, which causes older water mains to break, Kacprowicz said.

“I’ve seen as many as five breaks in one day,” she said. “By replacing and upgrading mains, we’re making distribution more reliable.”

Making these replacements now is also more cost-effective, Windsor said.

“Right now, we’re spending money to fix water main breaks, but it doesn’t really solve the problem,” he said. “They need to be upgraded, and sooner would be better than later.”

The single biggest project on the list is to improve water pressure in northeast Columbia.

“More than just each home owner’s personal pressure for showers, pressure is also needed for fighting fires,” Kacprowicz said.

Another portion of the bond would go toward backup generators and updating electrical equipment in the Water Treatment Plant.

Although the city has backup generators, further upgrades would help reduce the number of electric outages, Dasho said in his presentation at the council retreat.

“Water is such a critical thing to life,” Kacprowicz said. “We want to make sure we have backup plan after backup plan to continue to provide water to Columbia.”

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