The City of McPherson approved more than $29 million in bonds Monday morning — a debt that will result in increased water rates as the Board of Public Utilities inches forward with a project to build new water wells and pump that water more than 20 miles to the city.
The move was not unexpected — the project has been in the works for a couple of years. However, it is ahead of schedule. The BPU had not planned on moving forward until 2021 or 22 with the South Well Field Project.
"We started lookint at it because of low interest rates," said Tim Maier, general manager of the BPU. "We had a financial adviser do an evaluation ... Given the historic low interest rates he feels like is prudent to move forward with the financing."
The financing of the project will be on the docket for early 2021, with construction to begin in 2022.
"If we get the interest rates we are looking at, we can save between $300,000 and $400,000 a year over what the early engineering estimate was ... in 2019." Maier said.
The bonds will financed over a 30 year period — it includes $27 million for project funds and $2 million for bond reserves.
The project, the South Well Field Project, is the drilling of three new wells to serve the city of McPherson in the Sand Hills of Harvey County.
"We have seen a decline in the aquifer," Maier said. "What we are trying to do is get a water source that is outside of the area. ... We are trying to ensure a long term water supply for our community."
Currently the city pulls water from the McPherson Intensive Water Groundwater Use Area — an area that can not support the current use of its aquifer. Water levels have dropped about three inches a year since 1980.
The city of McPherson purchased land for new wells in 2012, and was able to get water rights in 2107.
The water will be transported via pipeline to McPherson, where it will be treated before entering the municipal supply. The BPU is budgeting about $14.3 million for the pipleline, and $10.4 million for a 3 million gallon per day treatment plant.
"The water is higher in manganese and iron. It is higher than acceptable levels. We will have to put in a treatment plant for that here in McPherson," Maier said. "We’ll then mix it with the water supply that we have."
The wells will be recharged during rain and flooding events on the Little Ark River.
"We have been taking water measurements over the past three to four years," Maier said. "The aquifer may vary 10 feet over that period of time, but every time we have a significant rain event it just fills back up. We think this is a very sustainable source."
There will be an impact to the water rate — according to a publication by the BPU last year, the water rate increase could be about 42 percent, though there may need to be two smaller adjustments once the wells are operational. According to the BPU, the average increase for a residential water bill will be about $17 per month.
"This should set McPherson up, from a water supply perspective, for the next 50 to 100 years," Maier said. ".. This is a significant investment for the community. I understand that. Having a long term water supply is extremely important.