Archive for Thursday, August 10, 2006

Questions haunt water planning

August 10, 2006

The De Soto City Council's effort to develop a long-term water facilities plan seems to be pointing to a foreseeable future of the status quo.

The council left a two-hour meeting Tuesday on the city's water master plan with a renewed commitment of making incremental improvements at the Sunflower water treatment plant so it can be a reliable source of water for the city.

As for a future direction to the city's water supply, the answer remains murky.

Near the end of the work session, Mayor Dave Anderson said with the new pool and need to replenish the city's debt service fund, the council couldn't really consider something as grandiose as a new water treatment plant in the near future. But he defended the exercise as preparation for the day the city would have to make that decision.

It was with awareness that a big investment was coming that the city contracted Burns & McDonnell to perform a water facilities master plan. It provided first estimates on the cost of renovating the Sunflower facility, building a new plant or installing a line to purchase water from Olathe.

The report first shared with the council in May looked at five different scenarios. One would have the city only serving its current customers and those in its growth area with a new plant and other provided estimates of serving the same area with a refurbished Sunflower water treatment plant.

Other scenarios looked at the city serving its needs and those of Johnson County Rural Water District No. 6 and Douglas County Rural Water District No. 4 with a new plant, and another option of serving the two water districts and Sunflower growth with a plant on the Sunflower site.

Finally, the report looked at what was the cheapest option at $5.2 million of buying treated water from Olathe.

It would cost De Soto a minimum of $8.4 million to build a new water plant or renovate its current plant at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, which the study recommends the city abandon unless it served future growth on the plant.

Those numbers were refined for the latest work session with the inclusion of the city's system development fees the city charges for new development. That revenue was left off past spreadsheets showing the effect on rates of the different scenarios.

The inclusion of the system development fees lessened the consequences of the options on existing customers, especially in the scenarios that would add a lot of new customers. But rate increases would still be "significant," Brungardt said. The least costly option would require a minimum 50 percent rate increase.

But even if money were available, frustrated council members agreed there were still a lot of unanswered questions, some of which show up as assumptions in the master plan.

The questions, which surfaced even before the master plan was officially released, concern just what areas De Soto will serve and to whom it might sell water from a new plant.

On Tuesday, council members acknowledged that without those answers it was difficult to plan effectively for the future.

The future service area questions concern De Soto's future growth area, which is assumed to be an area near Kansas Highway 10 and Edgerton Road. That area is in Johnson County Rural Water District No. 6.

Anderson and city engineer Mike Brungardt said they had met with water district representatives as the master plan was being developed to talk about which jurisdiction would be responsible for future service to the area.

And while the water district representatives said they were prepared to provide service to future suburbs, they agreed there could be places -- primarily north of K-10 -- that it was more logical for the city to supply water, Brungardt said.

Anderson said the water district was also interested in keeping communications open to avoid needless and expensive duplication of water towers and other facilities.

Still when Councilman Tim Maniez expressed skepticism, the mayor acknowledged the master plan's assumption that the city would be the future water provider to the city's future western growth wasn't guaranteed.

Councilwoman Linda Zindler was also skeptical of that assumption based on the much cheaper rate the water district could purchase water from Olathe or Johnson County Water One. She extended that view to future development at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

Other factors like responsiveness, reliability and cooperation could come into play, Anderson said. But the consensus was the city needed to further investigate where it stood with both the water district and Sunflower Redevelopment LLC.

It was agreed further meetings would be scheduled with both potential customers with council members Ted Morse and Linda Zindler taking part in the meetings with Sunflower LLC.

That fit in with one of Brungardt's proposed "next steps." At this time, the council couldn't leave the master plan with a clear direction as it did two years ago with the sewer master plan.

Instead, the city engineer proposed the city continue to investigate a number of options. Among those actions he suggested were:

  • Testing for treatments options to be used in a future plant.
  • Visit other facilities.
  • Test well fields for aquifer capacity.
  • Continue discussions with Olathe about the purchase of wholesale water and diversion of raw water.

Another item was added to that list out of Morse's concern over Olathe's plans to drill new wells in or near De Soto. The city will study whether such action would have an adverse effect on its water supply so that it could be in position to oppose state permits for the wells.

"I personally think Olathe should stay east of Kill Creek," Morse said.

With no state agency setting deadlines for improvement, the situation was different than the circumstances that forced the city to build a new sewer plant, Brungardt said. Add to that the fact the water plant was functioning well because of the expertise of its operators and investments the city has made in recent years, there was no need to rush into a decision, he said.

What that plan did was tell the council how much it would cost to build a new plant or invest in a water line to purchase water from Olathe.

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