Leaking pipe replacement costly for Bath water customers

April 07, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - With the good news that there may be an end to the water leaks in the Town of Bath's water system comes the bad news of the cost of the project and its impact on customers.

With a cost of more than $1.8 million for the new pipes project, customers of the Berkeley Springs Water Works could soon be paying more for their water.

Mayor Susan Webster said she proposed a flat rate per gallon increase instead of a 20 percent rate increase that was recommended by an engineering firm last month. The Bath Town Council will establish a new ordinance with new water rates, she said.


The Town of Bath will begin to replace its old, leaking water pipes late this spring, said Kevin Hancock, superintendent of the Berkeley Springs Water Works, the town-operated water department.

In order to pay for the estimated $1.8 million water pipe replacement project, the accounting firm of Gary K. Bennett recommended to the Town of Bath that the water rates be increased by 20 percent. Hancock said a 20 percent hike would make the average quarterly bill about $25 higher. The Bath Town Council must approve the rate increase by ordinance, he said.

Webster said she asked the Bennett accountant to come up with a flat rate amount per gallon.

"Everyone would pay the same rate," said Webster. The water rates now in place allow the larger users to pay a lower rate, and the "smaller user is penalized by using less," she said. "A flat rate will bring fairness to our more modest users."

There will be a rate increase, but, she said, "I would doubt that it would be 20 percent."

Zach Dobbins, an accountant with the Bennett firm, said if the town charges a flat rate, it would be $6.81 per thousand gallons. For example, if the usage is 4,500 gallons per month, the quarterly bill would come to $91.95, he said.

"Some users will have a decrease in the water bill, but the larger customers will be paying substantially more," he said.

Dobbins said if the town council cannot pass the new ordinance, the West Virginia Public Service Commission will step in to make the decision.

Webster said she wrote to the West Virginia Public Service Commission to ask for a "class cost of service study" to look into a flat rate.

Hancock said "98 percent of the town's water pipes will be replaced" because of leaks. Last quarter's billing from mid-December to mid-March showed a 57 percent water loss.

Hancock said the water plant pumped 60 million gallons but billed for 25 million gallons. About 1,475 residences and businesses in Morgan County receive water from Berkeley Springs Water Works.

Hancock said the majority of the replaced pipes should be installed and working by late fall. The contractor most likely will need to resume next spring to complete the pipe replacement, he said.

No new taps

Because of the substantial water loss, the Bath Town Council on Feb. 23 placed a moratorium on new water hookups. Councilman Dave Hall, chairman of the Berkeley Springs Water Works, said new hookups put an increased demand on the system. Hall had said between six and 10 new water hookups are requested each month, but anyone who requested a water hookup before Feb. 23 will not be affected, Hall said.

Local builder J. Philip Kesecker said Ridge View and Fair Oaks - the subdivisions he is building - were approved for water hookups before Feb. 23. Kesecker said he has more subdivisions he cannot begin because of the moratorium.

He said he will be affected "down the road," if the water tap moratorium is not lifted.

Connie Perry, a local Realtor, said the moratorium on new water hookups hasn't had a big impact. She said "certainly the resale of existing lots" could be affected if the owner wanted to build right away.

Hancock said summer car washing and lawn watering probably will be restricted. Customers will be assigned even and odd days to hook up their lawn sprinklers, he said. He said the water plant pumps 750,000 gallons of water a day from the Berkeley Springs State Park, and Hancock would like an increase to 1 million gallons a day. Berkeley Springs Water Works has five storage tanks, but they are not filled to capacity, he said, because all of the water pumped each day is needed to serve the customers.

Another source needed

Hancock said the town needs another source of water other than the springs.

"We have no backup source," he said. "We can't rely on this source forever. We have to look into the future and not work for today only. We have to expand along with the growth in the area."

He said deep wells like they have in Hancock would be a good water source. He said the water department in Hancock no longer uses the Potomac River as a water source because of the high cost of filtration. "The town of Hancock has had wells in place for six years," Hancock said.

Hancock said the water department needs a large enough tank that has "contact time," which is time needed for the water treatment chemicals to react with the natural chemicals in water. He said the tank could go at the north end of Wilkes Street. "There are grants for building these tanks," he said.

Hancock has been the Berkeley Springs Water Works superintendent for almost three years. He has worked in water maintenance since 1980 in Illinois, Maryland and West Virginia.

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