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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

La Cygne takes next step toward being regional water supplier

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

The La Cygne City Council earlier this month gave approval for city staff to begin research on grants and financing to upgrade its water plant to be able to provide water for the region. The cost of the project is estimated to be $3.85 million. (Journal file photo)

LA CYGNE – The La Cygne City Council in a special meeting earlier this month gave city staff the go-ahead to begin researching funding options for an upgrade to the city’s water plant. And at its regular meeting on Oct. 18, the council heard plans to send letters to wholesale water utilities that it would increase their rates by 2.5% annually over the next three years.

Officials from cities and rural water districts in Linn County have been anticipating an increase in the wholesale cost of water from the county’s two main sources of potable water – Wholesale Water District No. 13 and the city of La Cygne.

La Cygne currently supplies some of the water used by Linn County Rural Water Districts Nos. 1 and 3 and already has an agreement with the city of Linn Valley to supply water to their new water system.

Engineering consultants to the city have advised the council that, in order to meet the demands of its current customers, the city’s water supply system needs to upgrade piping at the water plant and to build a 500,000-gallon clearwell below-ground storage tank.

At the Oct. 18 meeting, City Clerk Jodi Wade told the council that the costs of chemicals and testing warrant the increase. One company that performs tests on the water has increased its price more than 30% over the last two years.

She has indicated in the past that costs associated with any upgrades to the city’s water plant would not be borne by only water customers in the city but would rather be spread out to its wholesale customers as well.

The cost to make those upgrades last year was estimated to be about $2.8 million to push the capacity where it needed to be just to serve current customers. Movement forward on further discussion of the project was postponed until Midwest Engineering Group was able to further study the necessary changes and report back to the council

Public Works Superintendent Dan Nasalroad had results of the study and estimates at the special meeting.

Currently, the water plant can produce about 400 gallons per minute (gpm). The cost to expand the plant’s capacity to 512 gpm was estimated to be nearly $813,600 without building a 500,000-gallon clearwell.

The cost to expand the plant’s capacity to 700 gpm was estimated to be $3.86 million, which would include the cost of building the larger clearwell.

In order for the city to remain a regional supplier, it would need to be able to produce 700 gpm. That will likely become even more important when Linn Valley’s new water system comes on line next year.

At least one Linn Valley official has privately questioned whether La Cygne will be able to meet the needs of the city, which continues to be the fastest growing city in Linn County. Linn Valley currently uses Linn County RWD No. 1 and a limited public water system for residents who don’t haul their own water.

Linn Valley has already reached an agreement with Linn County RWD No. 1 to purchase its meters and is expected to install at least 630 meters over the next two years. However, since that number of meters was established when the city applied for grants and loans, more new homes have been built, according to Linn Valley City Clerk Karen Siffring.

At the Oct. 10 La Cygne council meeting, Nasalroad reminded the council that it benefits all of the customers when the customer base is large.

Wade told the council that the current annual expense for each 1,000 gallons sold is $9.91. The current annual operation and maintenance expense is more than $552,400 and the annual revenue in water sales is almost $483,600, a loss of nearly 69,000 a year.

She said that a review of water rates, both for city customers and wholesale suppliers, was warranted even if the council did not approve an upgrade to the plant.

Council member Danny Curtis said he was concerned about an increase in water rates given the economic climate in which residents are dealing with inflation.

Wade said that she would look at both state and federal grants as well as loan programs to finance the upgrade and set water rates that wouldn’t make undue hardship for the system’s customers.

Council member Jerome Mitzner said that he felt it was important that, with all of the growth in the area, La Cygne remain a regional provider of water. He also pointed out that it would help city users to have those costs spread out to additional customers.

The trend over the past few years has been consolidation of water plants for rural communities. The only other city in Linn County to have an operating water plant is Pleasanton.

Public Wholesale Water District No. 13 supplies drinking water to all of Linn County’s rural water districts as well as Mound City, Parker and Blue Mound plus rural districts in Anderson and Bourbon counties. Those customers are provided water from Critzer Lake west of Mound City.

La Cygne water supply comes from the Marais des Cygnes River, however, Pomona and Melvern reservoirs, both in Osage County release water to the river when water levels are low, and the city has a reserve pool of water from that system.

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