City mulls adoption of water plan

STEUBENVILLE – City Manager Tim Boland has asked City Council to approve an ambitious five-year water system improvement plan Tuesday night that includes a recommendation to consider an annual inflationary increase of 1 to 2 percent on the city’s water rates.

“Recent water rate increases have gone into effect and the revenue generated will go a long way in addressing the maintenance of our assets. However, costs will not go down. The status of the water fund can be evaluated yearly and if it is solid, relief from the inflationary increase can be given for that year,” according to Boland.

A resolution adopting the five-year plan is set to be voted on at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Council also will hear the third and final reading Tuesday night for legislation directing the city manager to advertise for bids for the Buena Vista Boulevard water line upgrades

The water system improvement plan became a reality when council voted 5-2 in January to implement a water rate hike that now sees city water customers pay an additional $2.60 for the minimum 2,000 gallons of water every month and $3.90 a month that goes directly into the water infrastructure fund for pipe repair and replacement projects.

Every city water customer is charged for a minimum 2,000 gallons of water a month. The water customers are paying $1.30 for each additional 1,000 gallons of water used at their residence or business.

“This year we are looking at two water line replacement projects. The first one is the Buena Vista Extension that City Council approved to move forward on because the residents in that neighborhood have metal fence posts serving as water lines. And some of the lines are connected to different residences so the water pressure will fluctuate. The other replacement project is Harvard Avenue where a street paving project is scheduled. It makes sense to replace the water lines under the roadway while the street is torn up,” remarked Water Department Superintendent Mike Wigal.

“The city water distribution system is operating through older cast iron pipes. We plan to replace cast iron pipes with industrial standard PVC pipe that will last a lot longer. Our goal is to do two replacement projects every year. I hope we can eventually replace all 358,000 feet of water lines in the city. But that won’t happen while we are in office,” said Wigal.

Boland’s report said PVC pipe will be used to replace problem water main lines.

“The appropriate PVC pipe is just as strong as iron, more flexible and does not corrode. The life expectancy of a PVC pipe is estimated to more than 100 years if installed correctly,” according to the report.

City Engineer Mike Dolak said the key to future placement projects will be city departments working in conjunction and with communication.

“I always have my list of city streets designated for repaving at the first of the year. Hopefully we can plan the water line replacement in partnership with the paving projects,” Dolak commented.

“We are facing issues most communities are facing across the United States such as aging water infrastructure, maintenance, upkeep of our current assets, rate increases, the cost of upkeep, personnel shortages and a loss of water customers,” Boland reported to the council members last week.

“The age of our water system is many decades old. Major replacements or improvements to our water distribution system have not occurred and as a result we are dealing with continuous water line breaks. A fund for the replacement of water lines and improvements has been put in place and a plan is moving forward to address problem areas and improve the reliability of our system. This plan will be ongoing for years to come with frequent changes made in priorities as problems arise,” continued Boland.

“If all things are equal between two water lines, an older water line should be replaced prior to a line that is newer. The older water line poses a higher chance of a catastrophic failure. Consideration needs to be given to the number of customers affected by a deteriorating water line. A water line that has more customers on it will rank higher than one with fewer customers. Replacement of a higher service line will have a greater impact on customer service,” remarked Boland.

“Maintenance of our current water distribution system is almost non-existent at this time. Valves in our system have not been maintained. Hydrant maintenance cannot be kept up. My goal is to replace a hydrant a month,” noted Boland.

The city manager also addressed unbillable water in the city.

“Part of this is being addressed with the replacement of all of the water meters in the cities. We are losing a considerable amount of money to underperforming meters. The other part is water loss due to leaks. Identifying water leaks has to be a high priority. I will be bringing in a leak detection contractor to survey the entire downtown area for leaks. We will then begin to move west. The water department is looking into leak detection of our own. With the right kind of leak detection equipment we can eliminate the need for a contractor,” stated Boland.

He also noted maintenance items at the water treatment plant have been delayed along with maintenance at the water towers and the raw water pumping station needs attention.

Boland also organized a grant committee that will include himself, Dolak, Wigal, Wastewater Superintendent Chuck Murphy and Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi.

“We are going to look at available grant money as well as the best opportunity to obtain grants. We want to be as effective as we can and seek grants that give us the best opportunity to obtain the money and to get projects done,” Boland said.

“If the city shows a proactive approach to economic development by addressing the infrastructure in an area that can attract businesses, then potential developers could see this as a positive for investing in our community,” Boland said.