SOUTH HAVEN — When South Haven area residents get their next water and sewer bill, they might experience sticker shock.
Starting this month, water rates are increasing by 8 percent while sewer rates are being raised by 9.95 percent. The average ratepayer’s water bill will go up by approximately $4.50 per month, while their sewer bill will increase anywhere from $5.75 to $6.39 per month.
If utility customers are a little miffed about paying more, South Haven Area Water Sewer Authority (SHAWSA) officials say they had no choice but to raise rates.
“In an effort to comply with new state regulations, the authority made the decision to increase rates,” said Bill Hunter, South Haven’s Department of Public Works director.
The new state regulations, announced June 14, evolved from the Flint water crisis, where high levels of lead were discovered in the city’s water system.
To mitigate the chances of a similar situation, the state’s Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (formerly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) amended portions of the state’s Safe Water Drinking Act regarding lead and copper rules.
In essence, the state wants municipalities to replace lead pipes and any other lead fittings affixed to service lines leading to homes and businesses. In addition, the galvanized pipes also will need to be eventually replaced, not just to a residential or business property line, but to the residence or business itself.
Since the late 1970s, the city has stopped installing lead fixtures when it connects water services, but plenty of galvanized pipes with lead gooseneck connectors were installed prior to that and are still in use.
“There are 2,000 galvanized services within the system,” Hunter said. “All of the galvanized services installed during that period have a lead gooseneck, which by EGLE definition are now lead services.”
Getting rid of the older pipes carries a hefty price tag.
“We’re estimating the cost will be $24 million,” Hunter said.
Ironically, South Haven’s water supply is considered clean by state and federal standards.
“The most recent tests of drinking water for customers served by SHAWSA are non-detect for lead and for PFAS,” said Hunter, who thinks the state’s new requirements may be too stringent for communities that have not had lead-related issues with drinking water.
“Not everybody’s water chemistry is the same,” he said. “We draw from Lake Michigan,” versus municipalities like Flint, who were getting their municipal water supply from a river.
Luckily, the state is giving municipalities 20 years to eliminate their lead water service lines, but a number of improvements South Haven’s water sewer authority had hoped to make will now be on the back burner.
“We had to revise our capital improvement plan,” Hunter said. “If we hadn’t, the rates would have went up 32 percent. We reduced the plan from $19 million to $6.5 million.”
One of the projects that will still take place is replacement of an aging standpipe on Blue Star Highway “The standpipe was built in 1927. It is in poor condition and needs to be replaced,” Hunter said.
The standpipe, along with two other water towers supplies water to SHAWSA’s customers who live in the city of South Haven and in the surrounding townships of South Haven, Covert and Casco.
The standpipe stores most of SHAWSA’s water supply – 1.5 million gallons – while the elevated water tower in the I-196 Business Park holds 500,000 gallons, and the one on Kalamazoo Street holds a million gallons
The condition of the standpipe has been a concern for SHAWSA for a number of years. Although it has been maintained, its outer concrete structure is developing serious cracks.
“Concrete is hard to maintain. Even the rebar is rotting,” Hunter said. “You don’t see a lot of concrete standpipes anymore.”
The process of replacing the standpipe will take approximately seven years. It will be replaced by a new, steel elevated water tower that will be located near the Department of Public Works building on Blue Star Highway. SHAWSA also plans to install a pumping station near Wells Street to ensure good water pressure for that area of the city.