March 21, 2002

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if we had to go back to playing Jack and Jill? You know, going up the hill to fetch a pail of water? Those were the good old days, when a person had to haul a bucket back and forth from the well in order to cook and clean with water. For some, those days are closer memories than for others. But with rural water and the public water district most anyone who wished to have public water can do so.

Recently the news of a possible switch in water suppliers has spread like wildfire. It's understandable that such an issue is big news, as unlike many stories, this one affects pretty much everyone in the county. For whatever reason the possibility of switching the rural water supply from the City of Memphis and Lake Show-Me to the north to "Iowa's Ocean" - Lake Rathbun, has many folks upset.

Obviously there are issues with any switch when a vast majority of those involved are perfectly happy with the current system. Price is the foremost in the average customer's mind followed by water quality and the simple taste of the H2O. Then there are those worried about the big picture and the economic impact the switch will make on the local water plant.

What I don't understand is why everyone is making anonymous phone calls to me or dropping unsigned letters in the mail protesting the proposed change. Folks, I am not on the rural water district board of governors, so I don't have much input on the decision. But if I were, I might try to explain the reasoning behind the proposal as they have been explained to me by representatives of the district.

First and foremost is the rule of supply and demand. There is a limited supply of water that can be produced by the Memphis City Water Plant. Currently that production level is maxed out and beyond. So that means the rural district can either, stop adding new customers, cap the amount of water existing customers can buy, or look for a new water supply. Sure it would be nice if the City of Memphis could build a new, bigger water plant to supply all of these folks, but the cost for that project has been estimated at twice the expense of running new lines and towers from Lake Rathbun. At last report the city had received no good news as far as public funding for the project. However the rural water district is hoping to get at least half of the Rathbun project funded by public grants. So if you do the math, without attaching to Rathbun customers could expect a 400% higher project cost. Yes, the way it has been explained to me the current proposal will cost the district (if the grant funding is approved) roughly 25% what it would cost to have the customers pay for a new local water plant. I'm not saying this won't mean a price hike for rural water, but it should be less than it could have been.

Now I don't know what Lake Rathbun water tastes like but I'm sure it won't please everyone. However I did check the most recent water report from the Rathbun

Regional Water Association, Inc. the system had no violations and the drinking water met or exceeded all Federal and State requirements.

As far as the economic impact on the city, it should not effect the workforce at the plant. The biggest dollar impact will be on city residents, who should not have to face the possibility of doubling water rates in order to pay for a new water plant. Without the demand created by the rural district, the city plant will readily be capable of meeting all city water demands as regulated by DNR.

I'm not saying people do not have a right to be concerned about the issue. It's easy for me to sit in judgment when it is not my water that is possibly going to be changed.

While I am it (making people mad at me which I am quite good at), I supposed I might as well get the water district, who I just defended, perturbed at me as well. I think a lot of the negative revolving around this issue could have been avoided by making customers more aware of the project.

Granted, I'm in the newspaper business, so I think all information should be made public as quickly as possible. Maybe I can talk the water district into publishing their monthly meeting minutes in the paper so we can avoid future misunderstandings like this.

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