10-17 elkhart water

Elkhart public works employees Josh Pannell (left) and Jeff Gail (right) preparing for a two-year, multi-million dollar water system overhaul.

To increase water quality, pressure, and capacity, Elkhart city leaders are breaking ground next month on a multi-million-dollar overhaul of the city's water distribution system.

After years of planning, city council members last year voted unanimously to incur a debt of more than $2 million dollars for the project through tax revenue and a bond issue.

Starting next month, $2.25 – a “TCEQ approved infrastructure repair project” charge – will be added to city water bills. The surcharge will continue for an estimated 15 years, until the debt is paid off.

City officials said Elkhart cannot put off infrastructure upgrades any longer and continue to put band-aids on the system.

Because the debt was not entirely secured through taxes – the bond will cover more than 80 percent of the costs – state law did not require a special election to approve it.

“The only time such a debt would trigger a vote would be if a citizen submitted a petition requesting an election,” City Administrator Judith Cantrell told the Herald-Press Wednesday.

No petitions were submitted.

With nearly 1,000 connections, the current water mains, some made of concrete and steel, and dating back nearly 80 years, already sustain too little pressure for state standards.

Public Works Director Eric Clark told the Herald-Press the project is proactive, addressing current state standards, as well as future needs.

“What we're doing will give Elkhart the opportunity to grow,” Clark said. “New customers won't have to worry about water pressure.”

Likening the two proposed water pumps to the heart of the city's water system, and the new water mains as arteries, Mayor Jennifer McCoy said the two-year project will make it easier for new customers and residents to add veins, or water lines, to their homes or businesses.

“This project will ensure customers are provided access to sufficient water pressure for years to come,” McCoy said.

Despite problems with the current water-system, Elkhart's water has always been safe to drink, McCoy said.

“All public water systems in the state must adhere to TCEQ and Environmental Protection Agency regulations and standards,” she said. “The city of Elkhart takes this very seriously.”

The first phase of the construction project starts the first week of November. It will install two 10,000 gallon hydro-pneumatic tanks, also known as “pressure pumps,” at the Newsome and School Wells. High-service pump stations will also be built on the well sites.

The landmark Elkhart water tower, a gravity-feed water system, will be taken off-line. The fate of the tower has not yet been decided.

In the project's second phase, four- and six-inch water lines west of HWY 287, from Jenkins Road to E. Parker Street, will be replaced with 10-inch PVC water mains. Six-inch lines on the west side of E. Parker Street, from HWY 287 to North Main, will also be replaced with 10-inch pipes.

All two-inch lines on the west side of HWY 287, from E. Parker to roughly Cimarron Street, will be replaced with 8-inch PVC pipes.

“This is only the beginning – we have big plans for our amazing community,” McCoy said.

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