City council OK’s modest water, sewer rate increases

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The Columbia Falls City Council last week voted to approve modest sewer and water rate increases. For the average homeowner, the rates will rise $3.50 combined.

There is no additional increases to actual usage, just the base rate.

Two men, both on fixed incomes, opposed the rate hike at a public hearing, though one man later admitted it could have been worse.

The increases will pay for upgrades to the city’s sewer and water systems.

The city is planning an adding another well to its water system to meet growing demand. It will also look to plug a host of leaks — it loses about 45 percent of the water it pumps daily, or about 690,000 gallons.

One leak was recently discovered at Dairy Queen. It proved expensive to fix — about $21,000 — as the newly fixed U.S. Highway 2 and sidewalk had to be torn up. The city believes construction may have vibrated the line, causing it to break. The hope is the city’s insurance will pay for it.

All told, water upgrades will cost about $1.5 million.

The additional leaks could be dozens of small leaks or one or two big ones. It doesn’t take much of a hole to leak a lot of water. A quarter-inch hole in a pipe with 60 pounds of pressure per square inch will lose a whopping 14,932 gallons a day.

The sewer system also needs upgrades to meet growing demand as the city population tops 5,000 people.

The sewage plant upgrades will cost about $2.8 million in the next few years and will include new equipment and expansion at the sewage treatment plant.

Because the Flathead River is in nearly pristine condition, the city is held to a high standard by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for discharge of nitrogen and phosphorous as well as metals into the river of its treated sewage.

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