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Maintenance at Mountain Water costs millions

By Scott Zoltan, KECI Reporter, szoltan@keci.com
Published On: Sep 27 2013 07:33:21 PM MDT
Updated On: Sep 27 2013 09:52:33 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

As Missoula Mayor John Engen continues to push for the city to buy Mountain Water Company, NBC Montana looked into how much Mountain Water is currently paying to maintain and repair its aging infrastructure

Mayor Engen acknowledged in a memo that the utility leaks nearly 40 percent of its water -- a figure confirmed by Mountain Water President John Kappes.

Kappes said most of the water that leaks returns to the aquifer, rather than bubbling up, but he told us that presents its own problems.

 “We have to chase down the leaks," said Kappes.

In the past, it was cheaper to leave the leaky pipes alone instead of to trying to find and repair them, but now the company uses high-tech equipment to detect the problems, said Kappes.

He said the company has also been spending money to replace aging water mains. A recent replacement project in the area of Broadway and Madison cost close to $800,000, according to Kappes.

Kappes said in order to make a big improvement to the leakage percentage, the company would need to replace around 18 miles of pipe at a cost of about $1 million per mile. There are about 128 miles of water main that are 40 years old or older, said Kappes.

Instead of handling all the repairs and replacements at once, Kappes said the company is targeting leaks, and gradually replacing old pipelines and other equipment, at a cost of at least $4 million a year.

If the city controlled the water system, Engen has said the city could work to boost conservation and speed up repairs. He admits rates would eventually go up, but those hikes would be approved by City Council, and the money would get reinvested in the system.

The city council is holding a public meeting on October 21 at 7 p.m. in the city council chambers to discuss the potential purchase.

Currently, the city council has given a preliminary approval of Engen’s efforts to enter negotiations for a possible purchase, and a draft ordinance is expected to be officially instated at a later meeting.