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Pay now, water under the bridge later

By Ann Knoedler

A couple of blogs ago, I referenced the chronic water supply issue in the city of Abbotsford and its decision to build a new well field, water treatment plant and pump houses to solve its immediate needs.

Well (no pun intended), I must be drawn to this topic because since then I’ve discovered two more small communities in the same general area as Abbotsford that are grappling with expensive water supply issues as well.

Let’s start with the village of Stetsonville in Taylor County. They made the decision to build a new $5.69 million municipal water system — three wells, a water tower, a water treatment plant, and the necessary underground distribution piping. In fact, that project is out for bids right now, with bids due April 13.

Stetsonville/Well Construction

This is a pricey project for a municipality with a population of about 550.

They had a pressing need to seriously upgrade to a more secure water supply system because underground contamination was spreading throughout their private well system and housing values were dropping. So they decided to go for it. But they also received a lot of financial help in the form of grants and very low interest loans from various sources — Community Development Block Grant, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Utilities, and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009.

From what I understand this aid will cover three-fourths of the project cost.

On the other hand, the village of Unity in Clark/Marathon Counties (population about 400) is not feeling the pain yet; even though village officials have been stating their case for converting from the private well setup to a more secure municipal water system.

With the help of the engineering firm MSA Professional Services, they’ve been exploring the possibility of constructing an estimated $4.5 million system, consisting of two wells, meters, a water treatment plant, water distribution piping and a water tower.

Residents are understandably concerned about the cost, plus they don’t feel the same urgency as Stetsonville because the underground contamination that exists in the Unity area has not invaded their private wells.

The upfront cost of a water supply upgrade for a community of this size and general income is a shocker, there’s no doubt. Stetsonville understands that pain.

These projects only get more expensive the longer construction is delayed, and financial assistance is available now.

It’s important for a community to see beyond the initial sticker shock to the long-term benefits that a reliable water system will provide — the obvious being safer drinking water for the long term.

But I would think that not having this system could be a deal-breaker when a business is deciding where to build.

Ann Knoedler is the lead data reporter for The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at (414) 225-1822.

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