Know Your Water System

By: Clyde H. Zelch

Published June 1993, Missouri Municipal Review

A major concern of municipal officials is the quality of water supplied by the city’s water system. Water supply not only is important to daily use for sustenance but in the planning and development of a community. The vision to plan ahead can make a difference in the quality of life in a community for many years.

Planning a water system for expansion to accommodate housing and industry will help to assure orderly growth. A progressive, well managed water system is a valuable asset to industrial development.

There are three principal parts of a water system:

1. Production Ability: Know the source of supply. Does your city have wells? How many? The water operator should provide records on well drawdown, average daily gallons pumped and average daily gallons consumed. Perhaps your water source is from a lake or river. If so, lake or river water levels should be recorded and your water operator should explain the workings of the water treatment plant. If water is purchased from a neighbor, cost effectiveness should be studied.

2. Storage Facilities: Since a water tower is one of the most expensive investments a city makes, you should consider the importance of maintaining this valuable asset. Do you have an elevated storage tank (the familiar water tower), a ground storage reservoir, a standpipe or multiple facilities? You should know how many gallons of stored water are available to your community. You should ask your water operator for copies of the maintenance and inspection records on your water storage facilities. A water tank should be drained, washed out and thoroughly inspected every two to five years (depending on the quality and corrosiveness of your water) by a qualified inspector, for sanitation purposes, structural integrity, safety and the condition of coatings.

3. Distribution System: The city’s water system maps should be studied to assure that all piping, control valves, hydrants, meters and back flow devices are identified according to location, size and number. Hydrant maintenance records should be accurate and informative for the use of the fire department as well as the city.

Quality of water is important and so is the cost of delivering it to you consumers in the quality and quantity they expect. Is your water system self-sufficient? Does the amount of money received in deposits and collected for water bills pay all the expenses of the water department? Budgeted items should include the water department’s share for legal retainer fees, insurance, salaries, planned expansion or changes, a reasonable amount for unexpected or emergency repairs, as well as revenue bond debt service accounts. Federal EPA regulations are becoming more stringent on drinking water quality and money should be budgeted and saved every year toward water tower maintenance and repairs. The water operator should be able to advise the mayor and the board of the projected needs of the entire water system during the year for which a budget is being prepared and should know the system so well that a system’s needs are anticipated far into the future.

Some water systems have to be “bailed out” every year by the general fund. There are several reasons for this: inadequate rate structure, lost water, inefficient operations, poor record keeping, general lack of interest and foresight and previous absence of long-range planning. Rate studies should be conducted. Waste no time — take advantage of the resources available such as the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Missouri Rural Water Association, the Missouri Water Waste-water Conference and the American Water Works Association. Excellent training classes are provided by these organizations, and they are ready and willing to help with any questions or problems you may have.

Your friends and neighbors, your constituents, in every household, in every block on every street in your town, on every road in your water system community, depend on you to deliver in abundance the best quality of water. For without this, nothing lives.