DU poised to increase Limestone water sales
By Evan Belanger
Ten million gallons. It’s enough to fill the Point Mallard wave pool and the park’s Olympic-size pool more than nine times.
And if the Decatur City Council approves an agreement Monday, that’s how much potable water Decatur Utilities could pump to the far shore of the Tennessee River on a daily basis.
If approved, a 25-year agreement between DU and the Limestone County Water and Sewer Authority would allow DU to sell up to 10 million gallons a day to Limestone.
A current agreement allows DU to sell the Limestone Authority up to 2 million gallons a day. But Limestone Authority Manager Tony Sneed says it’s not enough.
“This is kind of a long-range plan, so that we can grow for the next 15 years should a new industry come to town or should BRAC cause the residential growth everyone thinks it will,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re ready for that and not caught off guard.”
Sneed also said the agreement could save the Limestone Authority up to $30 million by allowing new residential and industrial growth in Limestone County without requiring a new treatment plant on the banks of the Elk River.
While that option is still on the table for the Limestone Authority, Sneed estimated the project would cost about $40 million to complete, compared to $10 million to run a 30-inch-diameter pipeline to Decatur, including a booster station.
“It’s much cheaper than building a plant, and the DU rates are economical,” he said. “We’ve got a good working relationship with the DU, so this will open up water for the whole eastern part of our county.”
If approved by both the Decatur City Council and the Limestone Authority Board of Directors, the agreement will increase Limestone’s total capacity to about 18 million gallons a day, including an existing plant on the Elk River and a series of wells along U.S. 31.
Sneed said the Limestone board has already approved the plan in principle, but the entity will not officially consider the matter until after the Decatur City Council makes its decision. If the council rejects the plan, Sneed said, they would pursue plans to build a treatment plant on the Elk River.
The Limestone Board has already approved a bond issue to pay for either the new plant or the pipeline, Sneed said, and the entity could consider approval of the new contract as early as Nov. 15.
While 10 million gallons a day seems like a lot — and is a lot — DU officials say they would still have water to spare, allowing growth in Decatur.
According to DU interim Director Stanley Keenum, Decatur’s water treatment plant, which draws from the Tennessee River, can produce about 68 million gallons of potable water daily.
That falls well short of the 42 million gallons used on DU’s peak day this year.
“Our average is only about 30 million gallons a day, so that’s a lot of capacity,” Keenum said. “I feel confident that would hold out unless there was a surge in growth or something like that.”
Even if there was a “surge in growth,” Keenum said, language in the contract requires the Limestone Authority to help pay for any upgrades if they are needed to increase Decatur’s plant capacity.
The contract also states the Limestone Authority could be forced to pay for unused water from its capacity if Decatur comes up short due to growth.
At maximum demand, based on this year’s use, Keenum said, the Decatur plant should have 16 million gallons a day of capacity left.
By selling more water to the Limestone Authority, Keenum said, DU can help reduce the likelihood of a rate increase for customers. Spreading the cost over more gallons makes for better efficiency.
He said DU is charging Limestone the same rate as any business or property owner on the system, making the Limestone Authority Decatur’s largest single customer.
No immediate impact
To ensure the added demand from Limestone County does not adversely affect the DU system, Keenum said, the contract requires Limestone to increase its intake gradually over a period of about five years.
Sneed said the “ramp-up” period would begin with Limestone drawing between 2 and 4 million gallons a day. He also said it would take about two years to complete the pipeline before Limestone can purchase additional water from DU.
“We’re hoping to get it done by October of ’09, so we’ll probably go through another summer where everybody is tight and watching water,” he said. “But after that, it should alleviate pressure on this side of the river.”
If Limestone cannot complete the line in three years, DU can pull out of the deal, according to the contract.
While Sneed said the additional flow from DU is needed to allow for better growth, not all of the water will be used in Limestone County.
The Limestone Authority routinely sells some of its water to other entities like Athens and Madison. In August, the Limestone Authority sold more than 239 million gallons to other entities.
“We’re sitting in the right spot to make that connection, and we’re sharing with other communities around us,” Sneed said. “If Athens had an issue and needed it, or if Madison wants to use a portion of it, that’s one of the reasons.”
Keenum said there is no language in the contract to prevent the Limestone Authority from selling DU water to other entities, but DU is not in a position to sell water to those entities directly.
“We’re all neighbors here, and we’re trying to be good neighbors,” Sneed said. “I think that’s the spirit of this deal.”
Language in the contract also allows the Limestone Authority to extend the agreement for an additional five years if the board chooses to do so.
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