Collinsville’s water plant, which went online in 1958, lacks redundancy and limits the city from doing heavy maintenance that would shut the system down for more than 30 hours.
The plant’s clear well, which is needed to pump water to the distribution system, wasn’t built with seismic issues in mind, said Dennis Kress, water supervisor for Collinsville.
“If we have an earthquake, and if the structure cracks, we are out of business,” Kress said.
As components of water systems around the country begin to reach the end of their lifespans, including in the metro-east, utility operators must make upgrades or build new plants to make sure water continues to flow when residents open their faucets.
In most places across the country, the promise of clean, cheap, readily available water has been taken for granted, but that is changing. Farm runoff has polluted municipal water sources, drought has taken its toll on reservoirs and wells, and the aging underground networks of pipes that carry water to homes and businesses rupture all too frequently. Just as with crumbling bridges or congested highways, the solutions don’t come cheap.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency projects it will cost $384 billion over 20 years just to maintain the nation’s existing drinking water infrastructure. Illinois alone had nearly $19 billion worth of needed work.
Collinsville’s water facility, which helps filter iron and manganese out of groundwater, had an initial 35-year life span, but has been upgraded. However, certain systems can’t be enhanced.
“We’ve upgraded, over the years, (but) the electrical system in the building is at capacity,” Kress said. “(There’s) a lot of the electrical equipment we can no longer get parts for.”
A tank on the outside of the facility is no longer in use and has plant life growing in it.
Like many water plants around the country, Collinsville’s water plant is antiquated. So, after a capacity study, the city decided to begin work toward building a new water plant, adjacent to the current facility.
Water is the new gold. If people don’t understand (that), they will ... as we start to run out of water across the nation.
Dennis Sullivan, O’Fallon’s public works director.
Collinsville had plans to break ground on a new water plant in April, but those plans are on hold because litigation has been filed. Kress could not comment on the litigation.
To pay for the plant, projected to cost $18 million, the city increased water rates and plans to borrow up to $20 million from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Illinois in 2012 launched its Clean Water Initiative to help finance water main replacements and drinking water facility updates, among other things.
Kress still looks forward to when construction could begin on the new water plant, which is designed to be more efficient, have built in redundancies and have room to expand in the future.
“The difference between the new plant and the old plant is the redundancy,” Kress said.
Collinsville has been able to keep up with water main improvements, which helped lead to fewer breaks. Kress said the Illinois Department of Transportation was able to replace old water mains along Illinois 159, which were cast iron. Those mains were replaced with PVC pipes.
The amount of water being used has dropped to 2.1 million gallons per day from 2.7 million because of water main fixes, conservation efforts and water-saving fixtures, Kress said.
O’Fallon’s water system, which also serves parts of Fairview Heights, is one of the younger systems in the metro-east.
The system, like many others in the area, buys water from Illinois American Water, and then distributes it to its customers.
“Our water system ... is pretty good, better than average system out there,” said Dennis Sullivan, O’Fallon’s public works director.
The distribution system is made up of mostly PVC pipes, instead of ductile or cast iron, which is common for older systems.
$400,000 The value of water main replacements O’Fallon plans to spend in a typical budget year
The system, however, does have the challenge of a lot of former independent water systems with older lines and valves, which have been tied into the larger system, Sullivan said. Those were tied into the O’Fallon system.
Sullivan said his department plans about $400,000 worth of water main replacements a year. Depending on the how many issues are found in an area, those replacements of mains and valves could lead to an additional $250,000 being spent in an area.
“Water is the new gold,” Sullivan said. “If people don’t understand (that), they will ... as we start to run out of water across the nation.”
Illinois American Water’s costs
In recent years, Illinois American Water has invested heavily in its water plants and water distribution system.
“Much of the country’s water infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life,” said Karen Cotton, spokeswoman for Illinois American.
Cotton said Illinois American invests $70 million to $100 million a year across the state to replace and install water mains, valves, meters and fire hydrants, as well as make upgrades at water treatment plants.
“This year in the metro-east area, where we serve residents in Belleville, Granite City, East St. Louis and surrounding communities, we are investing in several upgrades and replacements,” Cotton said.
Illinois American is working toward replacing water mains that are 40 to 60 years old, and may have corroded, have damage, occasionally leak or are no longer large enough.
The utility is spending $3.1 million to replace more than six miles of water mains in Belleville and Swansea, $1.8 million for water main work in Granite City, and $9 million for 5.5 miles of water main work in East St. Louis, Cotton said.
Much of the country’s water infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life.
Karen Cotton, spokeswoman for Illinois American Water.
Illinois American also is carrying out a $12 million investment at the East St. Louis water plant that began this year, with work planned to continue into next year. Work includes upgrades to an intake main that was originally installed in 1925.
The project includes updating the plant’s electrical system, control systems and pretreatment equipment, and designing a new system that would save on maintenance and reduce chemical usage, Cotton said.
“When the project is completed, our operational efficiencies will not only be improved, but so will our environmental footprint, “ Cotton said.
$12 million The amount Illinois American is investing to upgrade its East St. Louis water plant
For Illinois American customers, the utility uses the Mississippi River to provide water to the its customers.
A challenge the utility faced in the winter of 2012 was a low water level, Cotton said.
“To ensure customers continued to receive water service, the company invested in auxiliary pumping equipment to access water at a deeper level in the Mississippi River,” Cotton said. “This investment helped ensure adequate water supply and service to our customers.”
With the high amount of water infrastructure work needed throughout the country, Illinois American is trying to stay ahead.
“Illinois American Water proactively and prudently invests to avoid a crises situation and ensure customers receive the reliable water service they expect,” Cotton said.
Paying for improvements
Costs of treating water and keeping up with water main upgrades will always be an expensive proposition. And it has led to some increased rates in recent years for ratepayers.
Collinsville last year increased its water rates by more than a third to pay for the new water plant. The new rate is $4.60 per 1,000 gallons used, which was an increase of $1.27 from $3.33 per 1,000 gallons used.
“We wanted to raise rates to start accruing funds to have funds available when we started paying the loan back,” Kress said.
Illinois American customers saw an increase of about $3 more a month to help pay for $42.9 million worth of improvements in its Interurban District, including upgrades at both Granite City and East St. Louis water treatment plants.
Residents currently pay about $41.50 a month for 4,500 gallons of water. User rates are the main source of income for the private utility, which does not receive any federal funding assistance, Cotton said.
“The investments ... illustrate our customers’ water rates at work,” Cotton said.
Water by the numbers
St. Clair County
- 196,790 people are served by a public water system
- 73,266 people use private wells
- 21.61 million gallons a day used by households
- 242,070 people are served by a public water system,
- 27,212 people use private wells
- 21.55 million gallons a day used by households
- 25,570 people are served by a public water system,
- 7,387 people use private wells
- 2.64 million gallons a day used by households
- 32,550 people are served by a public water system
- 5,212 people use private wells
- 3.03 million gallons a day used by households
- 28,410 people are served by a public water system
- 5,066 people use private wells
- 2.68 million gallons a days used by households
Source: U.S. Geological Survey