Columbia voters face water bond question

    More than half of a nearly $43 million bond issue would pay for upgrades at Columbia's main water treatment plant. (Garrett Bergquist/KRCG 13)

    A top utility official on Friday told a group of voters the city's water treatment infrastructure needs major upgrades.

    Columbia Water & Light's Ryan Williams, the utility's assistant director for water and electric services, spoke to a lunchtime voter forum at the Columbia Country Club. He said the city's water treatment plant in McBaine and its pump station on Ash Street both date to 1970 and need equipment upgrades. He said city officials also want to add a pump station on the southeast side of town and a new storage reservoir on the southwest side.

    Columbia voters on Tuesday will consider Proposition 1. The ballot question would authorize the city to borrow $42,845,000 for water system improvements. Williams said if voters approve it, the city would phase in a rate increase of 11 percent over four years. This would mean the average residential customer would pay an additional $2.71 a month for water services by 2022.

    According to the city, the money would go toward the following projects:

    • Water treatment plant upgrades: $23,000,000
    • West Ash pump station upgrades: $3,000,000
    • Well platform upgrades: $1,000,000
    • New elevated reservoir on the southwest side of town: $3,000,000
    • New pump station on the southeast side of town: $3,200,000
    • Main relocation: $1,500,000
    • Water main replacement: $3,750,000

    Kee Groshong, of the group Foundation for Columbia's Future, said the projects would mean a more reliable water system. He said the treatment plant is currently rated for 24 million gallons of water a day, not the 32 million it was originally designed for. He said the improvements would bring the plant back up to its design capacity.

    "If we have a drought, like we're approaching right now, or if we have a fire, for example, we'll be able to meet that demand," he said.

    Although there is no organized opposition to Proposition 1, some voters at the forum expressed concern over whether the city council would green-light bond projects voters had already approved and began paying for. The Columbia Chamber of Commerce expressed similar sentiment. The chamber endorsed Proposition 1 last Friday but said it would continue to monitor council action to ensure the money is used as intended.

    Williams said past incidents in which the council did not approve bond projects involved proposals that were contentious before they went on the bond circuit. He said he was confident the council would endorse the projects on Proposition 1's list when the time comes. Groschong said such concerns are understandable and voters should continue to hold their councilmembers accountable if they don't follow their wishes. Still, he said the water system projects are things that have to be done one way or another.

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