Note: A map of the area that will receive water bill credits and see construction on the water system is attached to this article.
trustees on Wednesday agreed to offer water bill credits to residents of Boulder Hill dealing with rusty water issues, and took the first steps toward a long-term solution to the problem.
That solution, according to Village Engineer Pete Wallers, will involve replacing and/or looping about 20,000 feet of water main beneath the unincorporated area, at a preliminary estimated cost of about $7.8 million. This would update the older, cast-iron mains beneath three specific areas of Boulder Hill, or roughly 12.5 percent of the full system.
Those areas were chosen based on the homes affected by the recent rust problems, which began in November when one of the village’s wells – Well #14, on the west side – went offline. The well was fixed in January, but village staff had to take the main water treatment plant on Knell Road offline that month as well, when residents began reporting a petroleum smell in their water.
Village staff had to start pumping water to Boulder Hill from other wells, and the change in direction shook loose rust deposits that had built up in the pipes. Both Wallers and Director Mike Pubentz confirmed that the water leaving the village’s treatment facilities is essentially iron-free, so the problem, they say, is in the pipes.
At Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Wallers presented a preliminary analysis of the areas of concern, broken down into three groups: dead-end water mains that need looping, two-inch water mains that need expanding, and mains that need to be replaced.
All together, he identified 30 different sections of main that would need work. Each of these, he said, would offer different challenges, given the small amount of space between homes, the need to work around utilities, and the difficulty in obtaining easements.
Wallers said the entire project could be completed by 2014, if the village takes out bonds or acquires a low-interest loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. That would require raising water rates in Boulder Hill to pay down that debt, he said, to the tune of about $2.50 per 1,000 gallons used.
That means a household that uses 10,000 gallons of water in a two-month period would pay about $13 more per month.
“No one wants to pay higher water rates,” Wallers said, “but it’s something we seriously have to consider if we want to once and for all solve the problem.”
Boulder Hill residents have been paying more for water service since the village took over the system – this year they will pay $6.03 per 1,000 gallons, while Montgomery residents will pay $4.90 – because, Wallers said, the operational cost of Boulder Hill water is more. This includes the frequent water main breaks in Boulder Hill – sometimes two to three times the number of breaks in Montgomery.
Trustee Bill Keck blamed poor workmanship in the original installation of the pipes beneath Boulder Hill. He said the village has been applying temporary solutions long enough, and agreed it’s time for a long-term one.
“There are no band-aids that are going to fix this situation,” he said. “We’re past the band-aid stage.”
Trustees agreed to incorporate the Boulder Hill project into the next water rate study, included in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. Wallers said he would investigate the situation further and provide more exact estimates.
Four out of the six trustees then agreed to offer Boulder Hill residents in those areas a “goodwill gesture” credit of $75 on their water bills. Pubentz provided a map showing each home that had complained of rusty water since November, and he determined the affected area from that, estimating the total number of affected homes at 249.
At $75 each, Pubentz said, the credit will cost the village $18,675.
Trustees Matt Brolley and Stan Bond voiced their dissent, saying the money that would go to the credits should be rolled into the long-term fix for Boulder Hill. Brolley pointed out there are likely others in Boulder Hill and Montgomery with similar problems who have not complained, and added that the residents of Boulder Hill are still experiencing issues.
“To wave the victory flag and give a credit when the problem isn’t fixed seems backward,” he said.
Finance Director Jeff Zoephel said he is not sure whether the $75 credit can be arranged in time for the April 1 water bills. If not, he said, they will appear on the June 1 bills. Village Manager Anne Marie Gaura said she is not certain what the impact on the water fund will be.
Trustees will continue discussing the Boulder Hill water system at next month’s Committee of the Whole meeting.