That excess water capacity, though, may no longer be sufficient in the foreseeable future to enable the city to lure a new major industrial water user, city utilities officials told the City Council’s Infrastructure Committee this week.
Pat Ball, the city utilities director, told the committee that the council needed to decide in the near-term if it wanted to commit to adding additional reserve capacity to the system to keep the city positioned for future industrial growth.
“And I will say, past councils for decades have said, ‘Yes, we want to have reserve capacity,’ ” Ball said. “And we are getting to the point where that’s no longer the case.”
Bruce Jacobs, the city’s utilities engineering manager, noted that the City Council in the past committed to expanding and upgrading the city’s water system following a 1988 drought when the city faced something of an “emergency to get plant capacity built.”
He and Ball noted that two-thirds of the city’s water use today comes from 10 industrial customers, which include International Paper’s Cedar River Mill and the multiple agricultural processing plants in the city.
This summer’s drought helped to drive home the point that the city may need to add to the capacity of its water system.
Jacobs said city estimates that the system can deliver 60 million gallons of treated water a day, which was sufficient to handle historic peak demands this summer when it reached a pumping record of 53.688 million gallons a day on July 25. The city pumped more than 50 million gallons of water a day on 23 days between June 18 and Aug. 3, he said.
“But nothing broke,” Ball emphasized.
Jacobs said the city’s Water Division is drafting new guidelines that will direct the division to ask residential users to back off lawn watering when the daily pumping level reaches 55 million gallons a day.
This summer, several cities in Iowa asked residents to back off the use of water, which prompted Mayor Ron Corbett to applaud Cedar Rapids’ investment in its water system to the degree that it could take on the spike in water demand when there’s no rain to water lawns.
Jacobs provided the council committee with a projection of future water demand, which showed that the city’s peak daily demand could hit or exceed the city’s ability to meet it as soon as 2022. The crucial date would be pushed back into the future, he said, if the annual increase in water demand is more like it had been between 1998 and 2008. And, he added, if no new, water-needy industry locates in the city.
“If we had another industry come to Cedar Rapids in the size of the (paper company), we would be pushing the limit right now,” Ball said.
He said an industry can have a new plant up and running in two years, but it would take the city six years to add capacity to the water system.
Council member Scott Olson suggested that the council needed to look down the road and move to expand the water system’s capacity if a new industry showed an interest in the city.
“The problem is, by the time you see it, it’s too late,” Ball said.
Any system expansion will require additional wells, lines to take raw water to one of the city’s two treatment plants, transmission lines to deliver treated water and additional plant capacity to treat water, Ball and Jacobs explained.
The plant expansion likely would come at the city’s northwest treatment plant, 7807 Ellis Rd. NW, which opened in 1995 and where there is room to expand on city land. However, the city does not own land for new west-side wells or for lines from new wells to the plant, Jacobs said.
Olson said that the coming construction of the Highway 100 extension from Edgewood Road NE west and south to Highway 30 will open up the city’s west side in the vicinity of the northwest water plant to development. The City Council, he said, will need to look at starting a plan to add capacity to the system.
Ball said the city could phase in an expansion, beginning with the purchase of property for new wells and lines from wells to treatment plants. The city gets its water from shallow wells along the Cedar River.
Ball and Jacobs estimated that the city faced some $39 million in upgrades to the water system through June 30, 2021, even without investment to expand the city’s capacity. The upgrades can be funded with increases of 3 percent in water rates in the next three years and increases of 6.5 percent and 7 percent in the two years after that, they projected.
Jacobs didn’t know what the cost of an expansion to the water system would be. The system upgrades don’t include funding to add better backup transmission capacity to the industrial area along Highway 30 or to relocate a main transmission line near the proposed flood-protection system, the officials noted