Water worries

The Benton Township Water Plant, pictured above, is among several items that a company suggested for improvements for the township to consider in the next 20 years. 

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Benton Township trustees have a lot to think about after getting an update on the municipality’s aging water system.

At a workshop session Tuesday, the board met for a handful of presentations concerning a 20-year capital improvement plan that would address some extensive water infrastructure projects – from water mains to storage tanks.

Steve Oosting, senior engineer with Prein & Newhof, said they identified four problems within the township’s current water system.

Among the biggest of the problems is how unnecessarily complex the design is of the township’s water infrastructure. 

Oosting said the more complex a water system is, the more vulnerable it is to breakdowns.

“We’re still working on the details, but we’re seeing the potential for a more simple operation,” he told trustees Tuesday. 

Oosting next identified how the township is inefficient with the use of energy, when it comes to operating the water system.

Based on annual expenses, the township pays about $8,800 a year to pump water in and out of the Paw Paw Avenue water station.

The township might also have a problem with water quality. Oosting cited water age and excessive storage as the two main causes for the township’s water quality in certain subdivisions.

Water age is determined based on how long it takes water to work its way from the water treatment plant to individual properties.

According to Oosting, water in the southeast region of the township tends to take longer to get to houses. He said a potential reconfiguration and moving of the tanks could lead to fresher water.

Oosting also addressed the aging infrastructure itself, showing the percentages of water mains and pipelines that were first installed more than 40 years ago.

He said about half of the township’s water lines were built between the 1950s and 1970s.

“This is a long-term challenge and it is a perpetual issue,” Oosting said.

Under the proposed 20-year capital improvements plan that Prein & Newhof assembled, the township is looking at $46 million in potential water main replacements, $18 million in intake and raw water pumping improvements, $5 million in storage improvements and $3 million in treatment plant improvements.

Andy Campbell, a senior manager with Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors, told trustees the township is in good shape financially with its fund reserves. However, he said the township would still have to issue a bond and raise water rates to help pay for the proposed improvements.

“It’s going to come down to how much you want to bite off,” Campbell said. “You are not in a different spot from other communities. It is extremely expensive to maintain this kind of infrastructure. The reality is these improvements aren’t going away.”

No vote was taken on what projects would be tackled first, as the trustees were only there for a workshop presentation. Board of Trustees can only take action or formally vote during board meetings – not workshops.

Trustee Cathy Yates said she believes residents will understand what may come in future meetings with the amount of water system projects the township will look into.

“We don’t want to be in a situation like Flint,” Yates said. “It won’t be an easy bite for sure. But it’s necessary.”

The workshop comes after the township hired Prein & Newhof to complete a water system reliability study by evaluating the township’s water system.

The study included an analysis and set of recommendations the township can make over time in terms of capital improvements to keep the water system in good health.

According to Michigan’s Safe Drinking Water Act, the township is required to do a water system study every five years. The township’s last study was completed in 2014.

Prein & Newhof previously developed a capital improvement plan for the township, which included water infrastructureprojects.

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski