The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

March 16, 2012

Water bill increase in limbo

Skyrocketing infrastructure costs could fall on consumers

OTTUMWA — Water bills could be on the rise.

“It’s going to take $1 trillion over the next 25 years throughout the [United States] to maintain our current levels of water service, and we’re obviously part of that,” said Mike Heffernan, general manager of Ottumwa Water Works and Hydro, referring to a study published by the American Water Works Association.

The study found that America’s aging water infrastructure systems need a large amount of repair and expansion, the cost of which would most likely fall on consumers.

“Our water plant is 50 years old, which is a typical life cycle of a water plant,” Heffernan said. “But we had a study done two years ago and it looks like for the most part it will last 20 more years.”

A structural analysis showed the Ottumwa Hydro-Electric Dam is still structurally sound, therefore Heffernan and staff are re-evaluating how to go about refurbishing requirements from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Probably the biggest issue right now is the hydro-electric dam, which is covered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” he said. “They grant us a license to operate the dam and hydro-electric plant.

as part of that license they approved a couple years ago, they want us to go through and refurbish it.”

So far, the department refurbished one of the eight gates last year, which cost $700,000 in engineering and construction costs alone.

“But if you multiply that, it would cost over $6 million by the time we do the whole thing, so that’s causing us our biggest financial concern right now,” he said.

And the department doesn’t have that kind of money, as it only brings in around $5 million per year in water bills. They have discussed a possible 5 percent annual increase over the next several years to keep up with the costs of refurbishing the dam and continuing pipe repair.

It’s possible the first increase would happen July 1, though Heffernan said no action has yet been taken.

“Seventy percent of our water pipes in the ground are over 60 years old and there are 150 miles of pipe in the system,” he said.

The department is replacing a mile of pipe per year, but at that rate, it would take 150 years to replace all of the pipes, which the system can’t take, he said.

“We’re trying to manage the cost of those projects as best we can without doing a significant rate increase like 50 percent,” Heffernan said, which Ames residents will see in their near future.

The city of Ames announced the building of a new water plant, which will result in a 10 percent water bill increase every year for the next five years.

“The trend in the state of Iowa the last few years has been an average rate increase of 6.5 percent, so we’re in the range of what everyone else is up against,” he said.

But communities across the nation are feeling the pressure, especially in the Midwest, as the freeze/thaw cycle and drastic temperature changes are hard on water systems, Heffernan said.

“Nationwide, it’s a huge problem, so I don’t know if we’re in any worse shape than other areas,” he said.

Web extra:

The American Water Works Association study, “Buried No Longer: Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge,” can be viewed on the internet at

Text Only
Local News
  • 0731 OTT Aviation plane -T -M Flying free OTTUMWA — The financial obstacle may have been removed if your career goal starts with learning to fly. "We have it set up for three terms, about nine months," said pilot and chief flight instructor Darren Graham at Indian Hills Community College. "

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supervisors discuss pipeline potential KEOSAUQUA — Van Buren County Supervisors received preliminary, general information on a new pipeline being proposed to carry oil from North Dakota through Iowa, including Van Buren County, then crossing into Illinois. The proposed Bakken Pipeline wou

    July 30, 2014

  • Fairfield stabbing suspects' trials separated FAIRFIELD — The three people accused of dragging a man into a Fairfield apartment before robbing and stabbing him have had a judge grant their requests to separate their trials. Dawn Dunn, Dustin Roll and Brett Hedblade are each charged with willful

    July 30, 2014

  • Local business donates grain rescue tube KEOSAUQUA — Stockport Elevator, owned by Roquette America, donated a grain rescue tube to Birmingham and Stockport Fire Departments. A training session was conducted Monday, led by Dale Ekdahl, a representative of Outstate Data, LLC, the device’s man

    July 30, 2014

  • Where do my taxes go? OTTUMWA — Wapello County Board certified its tax levy. But what does that mean? Based on budgets submitted by various levying authors, the Wapello County Auditor prepares and certifies the levy rates for the county. Budgets for each levy are based on

    July 30, 2014

  • OCSD releases elementary supplies list

    OTTUMWA — For years, parents of the students in Ottumwa's elementary schools have had to check to make sure the school supplies list they grabbed was the right one for their school. No more.

    July 30, 2014

  • Reducing runoff at the local level AGENCY — Pollution isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you look out at a field of Iowa corn or soybeans, but there’s growing concern about what manages to get out of the fields and into the water. The same nutrients that benefit the crops c

    July 30, 2014

  • Supervisors wrestle with staffing woes KEOSAUQUA — Van Buren County Supervisor Chairman Bob Waugh says he wants county supervisors to help alleviate staffing problems within the county treasurer’s office. In May, supervisors opted not to replace a vacancy within the treasurer’s office. Va

    July 30, 2014

  • 0730 OTT Better Buildings -T -M Wildwood could be your home OTTUMWA — There was always one child per class who just adored school. If they went to Wildwood, they may soon be able to move in permanently. The Ottumwa board of education met Monday, where staff told them where the district stood as far as "facili

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • A changing roster -- for school board OTTUMWA — If the last time you saw your board of education was before Christmastime, the current school board might surprise you. Two members retired from the board: longtime educator Ron Oswalt stepped down, as did board president Carol Mitchell. Bo

    July 29, 2014

Photo reprints