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Aging water system needs more regular maintenance

Staff writer

The city’s large water tower next to the football stadium turns 50-years-old this year. In an attempt to keep the tower and an aging drinking water system healthy for years to come, the city council last week approved a long-term maintenance plan.

“From a reliability standpoint, we are dealing with a very aging system,” said city administrator Roger Holter. “It’s 50-years-old this year, and that’s our newest water tower. So the maintenance is critical, and that we get on a regular schedule program.”

Having no regular maintenance schedule cost the city $5,970 this year, city officials said.

About 80 inches of sediment that had built up in two of the underground tanks at the water treatment plant required removal upon discovery.

The long-term maintenance contract with Liquid Engineering will include regular inspections and maintenance. City officials asked Liquid Engineering for a five-year proposal, but the Billings, Montana-company submitted a 15-year plan good through 2029 instead, with a total cost of $48,825.

“Don’t freak out about that $48,000 number,” utility supervisor Marty Fredrickson told the city council. “That’s not what we would owe up front.”

Instead, the city’s tanks would be divided into groups and inspected on a suggestive cycle that allows any tank or group to be moved up on the schedule as necessary. The city can also cancel service with a 30-day notice.

“Rather than get caught like we have on some other very costly ventures, this is probably a good way to handle this,” said Mayor Todd Heitschmidt.

The scheduled cost of inspecting and cleaning the tanks over the next three years would be $3,250, $3,570, and $2,945, respectively, according to the contract.

Holter said the long-term contract fixes prices despite inflation that might occur over the next 15 years. Holter estimated the city would receive a 20-25 percent discount on the services “based on what we have paid over the last several years when I look back at the charges related to it.”

However, if repairs are needed, including the removal of excess sediment, the cost to the city would increase.

“If we do this on the three-year basis, I don’t see that (cost increase) happening because the debris will be removed every three years and accumulation won’t be over two inches,” Fredrickson said.

The city has been contracting with Liquid Engineering since 2004. Fredrickson said that other companies charge higher prices. One company in the past sent workers who reached the top of the water tower and refused to perform any cleaning because there was no ladder on the inside. Plus, they didn’t even have the tools to clean it, Fredrickson said.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment recommends inspection of water storage tanks every 3 to 5 years, which is consistent with the schedule outlined by Liquid Engineering, Fredrickson said.

Fredrickson provided city officials with a brief history of Marion’s water system. Before 1890, the city’s residents received water from the river, cisterns and private wells.

In 1887, a private water system was built, and in 1907 residents voted to buy the system and enlarge it. The vote included a new treatment plant completed in 1928 that utilized water from spring-fed Mud Creek. In 1964, a new water treatment plant was constructed as was the big water tower.

In 1981, the city installed a 12-inch line that funnels water from the reservoir to the water plant.

The city utilizes five tanks in the water treatment process.

Besides the 500,000-gallon tower on Eisenhower Drive, the city’s drinking water tanks include the 70,000-gallon water tower next to the high school, and three on the grounds of the city’s water treatment plant: a 200,000-gallon underground clear well, a 350,000-gallon ozone contact basin and an 8,500-gallon pre-ozone contact basin.

Last modified Nov. 20, 2014

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