Water Towers Rising

December 5th, 2010
Federal funds, other resources help Aberdeen-area towns

By Jeff Bahr, (Originally printed in Aberdeen newspaper in Community section)

2010 was a good year for growing water towers. Helped partly by federal stimulus funds, five area communities - Ipswich, Roslyn, Faulkton, Warner, and Miller - erected water towers this year.

Ipswich is excited about its $5 million project, said finance officer Loretta Omland. The old water tower and many of the town's water lines dated back to 1911. Having old cast iron pipes "causes some problems in the winter with water breaks," Omland said. It's hard for small towns to keep their infrastructure up, she said. The population has dropped, so has the revenue. "And as the revenue decreases, their infrastructure still needs the same amount of replacement. Year after year after year that goes up. So the cost costs up and the money goes down and you can't find budget money to do it," Omland said. "so you don't do it."

The year before last, "$35,000 of our budget went to water breaks. At that point, you say 'Enough. We cannot afford this anymore. We have to do what we have to do to get it fixed,'" Omland said. "We were just lucky the stimulus stuff was kind of in the forefront when we were planning the project for that," Omland said.

Much of the funding the area communities used was provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly called the stimulus act. Those funds arrived at the state level through a variety of agencies. Talking about their funding sources for the water projects, area finance officers often mentioned the State Revolving Fund program. Community Development Block Grants and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. But the executive director of the Northeast Council of Governments said the boom in water towers isn't due entirely to stimulus money. "The money's always been available even through the sources that they access," said Eric Senger.

The three primary sources the communities used all "have money in them every year. But there was more money that came in," he said. Plus, there's something of a chain reaction. When one community takes on a project, others follow suit. In addition, "there was a little bit of backlog on some projects as well," Senger said.

Java finance officer Donna Bieber points out that her community started its process "way before the stimulus money" came out. Java is very happy with its project, Bieber said. The Walworth County community didn't get a new water tower, but it did get new water lines, new fire hydrants and new curb boxes at every household. The project cost about $680,000. But 92.5 percent of that cost was covered by grant money. "We had to borrow $58,000 for the whole project," Bieber said. Java did well in getting grant money. But, she noted, "it takes a lot of effort."

[Helms and Associates provided engineering services through an investigation of existing water systems, development of alternatives for improvements, design of the chosen alternative, and construction observation through project startup to final completion and operational maintenance. We worked with the funding agencies, city officials and employees to improve potable water delivery to each of these communities.]

In addition to the water tower, the Ipswich project consists of new water lines, new water meters and a backup generator.
All of the old cast iron pipes will be replaced as part of the project.
The project won't be done until next fall. But Ipswich is just glad the work is being done. "It's been a long time coming," Omland said.
Sixty percent of the funding is provided by grant money.

Warner has a new water ground storage unit that holds 100.000 gallons.
The cost will be about $700,000. The city received a grant that covers about half the cost, and "then the rest is just coming off the water bill," said Mayor Dave Fair.

Roslyn's new water tower, which holds 50,000 gallons, replaces a tower that was built in 1941.
Alongside the new water tower is a 16,000-gallon storage tank. The project includes an underground control room and a standby generator.
In addition, the town replaced all of the water lines and curb stops up to residences. The community also replaced 75 percent of the sewer lines.
The cost of the project is about $2.3 million. Of that amount, the town had to borrow about $415.000, said Mayor Gary Knebel.

In addition to its new water tower, the town put in roughly 75 blocks of new water main, along with valves and hydrants.
Every residence and business received a new water meter. "It was quite an extensive project," said public works director Jerod Raethz.
A crew from Michigan demolished the old water tower on Nov. 9. "It took them about seven hours to take the old water tower down," Raethz said.
The cost of the project is an estimate $3.2 million. About $2 million in grants are being used to pay that bill.

Selby doesn't have a new water tower. But the town did have a $1.5 million water project that is almost done.

Miller had two projects that cost a total of $1.6 million. They were the water tower and underground distribution near the water tower.