Water study confirms earlier estimates
The feasibility study into what is being called the Western Johnson County Water Cooperative answered the big question, but left De Soto City Council members with others.
On council members' minds were how much would, or should, the city be reimbursed for the improvements made at the Sunflower water treatment plant, when would the other three jurisdictions considering the cooperative — the city of Gardner and Johnson County Rural Water Districts Nos. 6 and 7 — make a decision about joining and what other jurisdictions would be interested.
Of course, the big question the feasibility study was to answer was how much it would cost to produce water at the plant. It didn't provide a single answer because the number is dependent on how needed improvements would be financed, and that won't be known until the proposed partnership is formed and its members make the decision in consultation with state agencies.
But the final study Tony O'Malley of Larkin Group Inc. presented to the council Thursday produced numbers in line with earlier projections. It was estimated it would cost $2.39 to produce 1,000 gallons of water in the wholesale district's third year of operation of 2015 should a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development 40-year loan be used to finance the improvements. That cost was placed at $2.79 should a state 20-year loan program finance the upgrades.
De Soto City engineer Mike Brungardt repeated his assertion that the city would not have to raise its water rates at the $2.50 per 1,000 gallon rate. That was the benefit of the cooperative to the city. Water rate increases would be in the offering should the city renovate the Sunflower plant alone because of cost their costs, he said.
The study found the recommended phase I upgrades at the the plant necessary to reliably produce 6 million gallons of water a day has a price tag of slightly more than $17 million. Those improvements would:
• Upgrade or rehabilitate treatment processes in the plant.
• Give a cosmetic facelift to the interior and exterior of the plant and the exterior of the four Sunflower water towers.
• Construct a water line with six pump stations to supply Gardner and other customers to the south.
• Fully rehabilitation six wells in the Sunflower well field and drill three new wells.
Further upgrades at the plant would be made as water production increased. The total cost of five phases needed to produce 12 million gallons of water a day at the plant would be $44.1 million.
The Phase I cost estimates don't include De Soto's past investment in the plant or the $1.5 to $2 million the council has agreed to spend in the coming year to install a new water line from the plant to the city's nearest distribution line, erect new power lines and purchase a backup generator.
City engineer Mike Brungardt said it was assumed other partners in the wholesale cooperative would reimburse the city for those investments, although it would be point of further discussion.
When Councilwoman Mitra Templin asked if such an arrangement would save De Soto water customers higher rates because the reimbursement would drive up the water district's rates, Brungardt explained it would because the cost would be spread over a larger customer base.
Pointing out the city would still be responsible for its water distribution system, Councilwoman Betty Cannon suggested the reimbursement could be used to replace aging water lines.
As a first step to forming the wholesale district, the governing body of each of the four jurisdictions would be asked to approve the feasibility study's findings, Brungardt said.
"It stops discussion of 'yeah, it's a good study, but I'm not sure about those rates,'" he said. "It gets us beyond that. It won't commit anyone, but it tells us if it works for them."
Following that a commitment from the potential partners in the way of money, Brungardt said.
As for other potential partners, Brungardt said he had taken the initiative to approach such possible customers or partners as Sunflower Redevelopment L.L.C., Douglas County Water District No. 4 and the city of Eudora and Baldwin City.
"I tell them the city of De Soto is committed to going ahead with renovations to the plant that will be producing a lot of water and the potential to produce a lot more," he said.
It made sense to invite any new partner into the cooperative if that drove production costs down, Brungardt said.
No commitments should be expected until potential members see the results of the plant's concrete structural analysis, Brungardt said. The council hired the firm of De Soto structural engineer John Krudwig to do that analysis earlier this month and results are expected in January.