The construction of a water pipeline under the Tennessee River could be “months away” from starting, according to officials with the Limestone County Water & Sewer Authority.
Byron Cook, general manager of the LCWSA, said the authority still has to clear hurdles and complete environmental studies for the Tennessee Valley Authority, Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
“We have to do a new scan on some of the animal life (in the river) since it has been so long since anybody has done one,” he said. “We just have to make sure (no animals) are bothered and nothing new is found. … Best case scenario is, instead of a year away (from starting the pipeline), we’re months away.”
The authority is also working to finalize its contract with Decatur, which would provide 10 million gallons per day of water from the 30-inch pipeline. Cook said the pipeline, and the agreement with Decatur, could allow the authority to purchase as much as 20 million gallons per day in the future.
“It allows us to have the water we need to benefit the growth for the future of Limestone County,” he said, adding the pipeline may also keep water rates down for customers.
Officials estimated earlier this year the price of the pipeline and a new pumping station could be from $7 million to $10 million. Cook said the money for the project has been set aside from previous bond issues.
While the additional water will strengthen the authority’s ability to serve its current customers, it will also be a benefit — and likely facilitate — future growth in portions of Limestone County annexed by Huntsville. The authority has been working closely with Huntsville leaders for the last few years, and finalized a deal in late 2010 to sell 7 miles of sewer line to the city for $10.1 million.
LCWSA Chairman Jim Moffatt told The News Courier in May that Huntsville is moving forward to develop roads and infrastructure in the portions it has annexed in accordance with the city’s long-term plan. If Huntsville is able to land a large industry, he said, he wants LCWSA to have plenty of available water.
“Huntsville is planning to spend a ton of money and (city leaders) are convinced that quadrant will be developed,” he said. “The last thing the water authority wants to be accused of is making it impossible for a big industry to come.”
The LCWSA charges a $1,000 impact fee per residential meter, while commercial impact fees vary depending on the size of the business or industry. The addition of Huntsville residential, commercial and industrial development in southern Limestone County could provide a financial windfall for the authority in terms of fees, but Cook said income goes out about as fast as it comes in.
“People forget there’s 1,200 miles of infrastructure in the ground that (has to be maintained,” he said. “We have to invest in upgrades (to the system).”
Though the authority is committed to working with Decatur on the pipeline project, it’s not necessarily the closest water vendor it could have chosen. Athens Water/Wastewater Manager John Stockton said the city could provide 10 million gallons per day to the LCWSA, but not the 20 million it seeks for future growth.
He said a joint study between the city and LCWSA was performed a few years ago and examined how upgrades to the city’s water treatment plant could have produced what the authority was looking for. He added the authority never specifically asked Athens for a price on 10 million gallons per day, however.
“We looked at modifying and expanding the output capacity at our plant,” he said. “It sits in the middle of their service area, so we did not look in any great detail at how we would move (the water) from the plant to the service area. What we looked at would have gone 25 to 30 years into the future. Our assumption was (the LCWSA) looked at it and were not interested. It’s been mothballed since then.”
Moffatt said Wednesday the discussion with the Athens system included asking the LCWSA to help pay for the cost of upgrades to the treatment station. He said the authority found it was cheaper to build the river pipeline than help Athens upgrade its system.
“We can also buy more water from Decatur than we could from Athens, and it’s cheaper,” he said. “Decatur has a much bigger treatment capability at 60 million gallons per day. It’s going to meet our demand for the next several years, but maybe not much more than 20 years. We have to keep looking for new sources.”
When asked if city officials are disappointed about losing out on an opportunity to sell water to the LCWSA, Stockton said Athens is not set up to “make much money off water and sewer.” He added that he couldn’t blame the authority for looking for the best deal and the least expensive water supply.
“Decatur has a 60 million gallon per day (treatment plant), which made sense at one time because of all the industries,” he said. “With industrial shutdowns, if they can sell the excess water to Limestone County, it’s a good business decision.”
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