City officials from Beloit met with Mitchell County (MC) Rural Water District board members, along with representatives of EBH Engineering and members of the public, to discuss options for future water services on Wednesday evening. The preliminary discussion was held to gauge interest in consolidating resources to include a combination of water districts with the City of Beloit to be involved in, and mutually benefit from, a shared new plant and infrastructure.
MC2 initiated the meeting to consider options before they accept pending funds to upgrade their existing plant. RWD 2’s plant is on the east side of Waconda Lake and they sell water to MC3. Beloit currently sells water to MC1.
Don Hellar of EBH Engineering conducted the meeting. He stated that it was not his decision to make, but rather to provide pertinent information to help those who will make the decisions make informed ones. He said if consolidation is something everyone decides to do, then his recommendation would be as follows.
The City of Beloit’s highest usage of water has been recorded at 1.5 million gallons per day. This includes usage by MC1. MC2’s largest daily usage rate, which includes MC3, is about 800,000 gallons. The rate of use combined is about 2.3 million gallons in a given day. Any new infrastructure in a consolidated system which includes all entities would have to contain the capacity to handle at least that much water on any given day. Hellar provided more details about MC2’s position and prepared the entities for what they can expect if they move forward with consolidation in some form.
MC2 representatives said they are in a position to be in good shape with their facility and infrastructure for years to come if they follow through with their planned upgrades. Their interest in considering a consolidation is for the long-term benefits of pooling resources and sharing responsibility in decades to come. This not only could provide peace of mind, but could also allow for an existing plant to serve as a back-up after a new one is built.
Hellar also said there is a potential $1 million grant available simply for consolidating the city and RWD facilities through regionalization programs. Grants are also available up to $12,500 for the planning process via the KDHE.
It was noted that, typically, rural development funds from the federal government would be available to help offset the costs of such an endeavor by as much as 40 percent. However, rural development funding has been cut by over $1 billion by the Trump administration. Such grant funds for the project may be available closer to construction time, but there are none as of now.
Following the discussion, the groups agreed that it was worth looking farther into the possibility of consolidation through a regionalization effort. Hellar recommended Gary Hanson, a Topeka attorney, to be contacted to serve as a neutral moderator for future discussion.
Hanson has published articles in national and state publications and made presentations on various aspects of the water utility industry. For the past several years he has served as moderator of the Attorney’s Forum, a program for water utility attorneys, held in conjunction with the Kansas Rural Water Association Annual Meeting.
The consensus of the conversation was for the individual entities to reconvene in October and determine their position and level of interest. Each entity will choose two representatives each for the future deliberations. An interest was also expressed to consider inviting other area municipalities into future discussions.
Also during the meeting, it was asked if there was risk of eventually plugging or damaging a pipeline by pumping untreated water to Beloit from Waconda Lake to be treated. The follow-up question was should the plant be closer to the source? Hellar said there are pros and cons both ways, but the lake water is much cleaner than the river water currently used by the city. Implying it was not a serious concern.
It was also asked if zebra mussels in the lake could cause issues with pumping water from the lake to Beloit. Hellar said they would get into the pipe, but could be flushed out periodically without difficulty. He said the mussels can only withstand a current of four feet per second at most, other water plants have little if any trouble flushing them out of their systems.