VALPARAISO | After studying the city's water needs for a year at a cost of about $175,000, Utility Director Steve Poulos told the council Monday the city should continue to use groundwater, but it's going to require a rate increase for sewer and water services.
The goal is to increase the city's daily supply of water to at least 8.5 million gallons compared to the current capacity of 7 million gallons, Poulos said. That will require drilling additional wells and connecting them to the treatment plant at a cost of $16.7 million.
To do that, as well as provide $750,000 per year to replace aging infrastructure, pay the lease on the new offices it will share with the public works department and pay for other capital projects, it will require a water rate increase of 34 percent.
Poulos said the sewage treatment plant and the sewer infrastructure have similar needs, including the upgrade of the lift stations on U.S. 30 to meet the expected needs of new development as well as upgrading the equipment at the treatment plant that will require a 32 percent increase in the sewer rates.
For the average homeowner who uses 5,000 gallons of water per month, their water bill will go from $25.05 to $34 a month while the sewer bill will increase from $36.04 a month to $47.57. Poulos said the plan is to phase in the increases over a three-year period.
"As long as we stay ahead of the infrastructure replacement needs, we should avoid the shock of a huge rate increase," he said. "Our past practice enabled us to meet the needs of Pratt for an additional 1.2 million gallons of water a day and 700,000 gallons of sewage."
Mayor Jon Costas said if the city can't get Lake Michigan water, it should at least stay on top of its water infrastructure needs.
"One of the worst things we can do is shove maintenance on to the next generation. My first choice would have been to use lake water, but this is not my decision. We wanted to make sure we had an ample water supply well into the future," he said.
Poulos said a poll showed about half the city's residents would like to switch to Lake Michigan water from Indiana American, but, when asked if they would pay the needed higher rate, the number dropped to about 30 percent. Switching would require almost doubling the rates, the study showed.
The plan to add new wells and increase the rates will take several months. Poulos said he probably will come to the council in April for the bond issues to finance the work and the accompanying first phase of the rate increases.