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New water plant to have customers seeing green

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Bargersville’s new water plant is up and running after four years of planning, $20 million in costs and a few straight summers of nearly empty water towers and lawn-watering restrictions.

The new water treatment plant on Smokey Row Road in Morgan County can process about 6 million gallons of water a day, doubling the utility’s current capacity. The town-run utility would end up with enough capacity between the two plants to handle all the new homes and businesses that will be built in Bargersville and south White River Township for at least 10 to 15 years, utilities superintendent Kevin Killinger said.

Added capacity also should ensure that lawns won’t brown because the town will no longer have to ask residents to water their grass less often, even in a drought, Killinger said. The existing water plant on Smith Valley Road had been straining to keep up with demand for the last few summers, but the new plant will allow the utility to produce enough water to get residents through the hottest, driest weather, he said.

The existing plant will remain open to serve the densely populated White River Township area, while the new plant will allow development to continue farther south by enabling the water utility to hook on more homes and businesses. The two plants should combine to produce about 11 million gallons a day, or enough to ensure the utility can provide pressure to all fire hydrants after having issues in some areas in the past, Killinger said. Existing homes and businesses, plus already planned developments that have yet to be built, would use about 62 percent of that total capacity, so the utility should be able to support continued growth without having to make any more major investments for at least a decade, Killinger said.

Bargersville’s water utility serves about 10,000 residents of White River, Franklin and Union townships and some residents in Morgan County. The new water plant was built west of the White River in Morgan County.

Customers had to pay 77 percent rate increases a few years ago in order to pay a loan for the plant and other improvements to the water system. But bills are poised to drop next month, and the town utility will continue to try to bring rates down by operating the new plant as efficiently as possible, Killinger said.

Residents who lived outside of town had been paying a $20 a month fire protection fee as part of their water bills, but that will decrease to $13.50 a month when bills go out at the end of this month, Killinger said. The town council was able to lower the rate by refinancing loans for the plant’s construction and new water lines, and also by avoiding cost overruns during the construction, he said.

When Bargersville took out the loan, the average customer’s water bill jumped from about $21.33 a month to $37.71 a month, not including hydrant fees. Residents who got Bargersville water but lived outside of town and didn’t pay town property taxes also started paying fire protection fees of $20 a month.

After lowering the fire

protection fees, the council plans to look next at lowering the water rates to ensure that Bargersville is an affordable place to live and open a business, Killinger said. The council will review what can be done to cut the utility’s costs after the new plant has been open for a year and they’ve been able to study its operations more, Killinger said.

Rates jumped in 2010, when the town-run utility borrowed $20 million to build new water lines, well fields and the new water plant in an effort to serve all the new neighborhoods and businesses that are expected to be developed in coming years.

Generally, the current plant would serve the area north of Stones Crossing Road or Olive Branch Road, and the new plant will serve all the homes and businesses south of that divide, Killinger said. The exact boundaries will be determined after the town has had a year to run the plant, but the Smokey Row Road plant is intended to handle the growth that’s expected to continue south.

The town added one utility employee so it could staff the new plant, but doesn’t expect to need any more, Killinger said. The added employee is filling in at the Smith Valley Road plant, so a more experienced employee can run the new plant.

Five workers and a supervisor staff the current plant, where they have to manually work pumps.

The new plant is more highly automated, Killinger said. A single employee can operate the plant from a computer, and could for instance get an alert sent to his cellphone and then open pumps from a company-owned laptop while at home.

The plant is so high-tech that no one needs to be there to operate it at night or on the weekends during the slower winter months, Killinger said.

“This plant can be staffed eight hours a day, while the other plant is staffed 24/7,” he said.

All water utility employees will be trained on the new plant’s computer controls so they can fill in at the new plant on sick or vacation days, Killinger said. The same computerized system will eventually be added at the existing plant, so the staff can be more evenly distributed between the two.

The new plant requires fewer workers to operate but will produce most of the utility’s water at first, since the current plant has run overcapacity for a few summers in a row and needs some relief, Killinger said. The hope is that the Smith Valley Road plant could be shut down for four to eight hours at a time over the summer to do maintenance, such as changing filters or making repairs.

“We got really lucky, because that plant was going 110 percent with our pumps running nonstop for days on end,” he said. “We want to put a little more workload on the new plant to give it a break.”

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