Water Bill Leaves Some Feeling Queasy

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

    I guess it was nice to learn that I wasn’t being singled out or picked on.
    Judging by some e-mails I’ve received in the past week, I wasn’t the only Glenwood resident slapped with a sizeable rate hike on my water and sewer bill this month from the Glenwood Municipal Utilities.

    The GMU bill I received at home the first of the month  was nearly 20 percent higher than what I had paid in September. Here at the newspaper office, our GMU bill jumped more than 35 percent.
    Leaky faucets? Account-ing error? One-time adjustment?
    None of the above, unfortunately.
    Due to increasing operations and maintenance costs for an aging infrastructure, GMU has increased water and sewer rates effective with this billing.
    That was the written message given at the bottom of our most recent GMU bills, an  explanation that isn’t holding water with some people.
    Here’s a  sampling of one of the written messages I received from a Glenwood resident:
    Rates went up to a tune of 20-25% and all our water department did was put a blurb on the bottom of the bill stating that rates went up due to an aging infrastructure. There was no explanation as to how the increase was determined or what the actual amount should be.
    How are we supposed to know if the bill is accurate?  If there was community input on this, I missed it. They were also nice enough to include a letter stating that Glenwood’s contaminate level is higher than national accepted levels and has been for a year! They announce that they are going to hire a consultant to help them figure out a solution, after a year, are you kidding me?
    Yep, it probably wasn’t the best timing on the part of GMU to kick in a substantial rate hike on the same bill that’s accompanied by a letter stating that the quality of our drinking water isn’t meeting EPA standards. As you may recall, we first reported on the water quality issue in Glenwood this past summer.
     Earlier this week, I spoke with Glenwood Utilities Superintendent Dale Marshall and asked him to address both the rate hike and the water quality issue.
    For starters, GMU has hired a consultant to figure out what the city needs to do to bring our water into compliance with EPA standards. Quarterly testing has determined that Glenwood’s water, which comes from a well, exceeds the maximum contaminant level for something called trihalomethanes. The standard is 0.080 milligrams per liter, but Glenwood’s quarterly tests over the past year have averaged out at 0.102.
    Marshall describes trihalomethanes as a disinfective by product - the chemical reaction caused by the mixture of chlorine and organics in the raw water.
    Marshall said the situation is non-acute, meaning our water is still safe to drink and not a serious health threat. Since testing is done quarterly, GMU customers should expect to continue  to receive the trihalomethane advisories every quarter until Glenwood’s average meets the federal standard. Since the last four quarterly readings are taken into account, it could take some time (more than a year) before Glenwood’s average falls at or below the 0.080 level.
    Marshall said GMU will eventually get the level back to where it needs to be and is experimenting with lowering the water level in its tower, thus cutting down on the time the water is actually in the system.
    So, is the water quality issue related to the recent rate hike?
    Somewhat, according to Marshall.
    “There’s some direct relationship to it (rate hike), but it’s not the only reason,” Marshall said.
    The aging infrastructure of Glenwood’s water and sewer systems is the biggest problem.
    “You have a system dating back to the 1800s,” Marshall said.
    Marshall said Glenwood’s water rates haven’t gone up since 2000 and sewer rates haven’t been hiked since 2003.
    “We just finally reached the point where a rate increase was inevitable.”
    Anyone who owns a home or building, knows that it takes money for the upkeep and I know that Glenwood’s not alone in dealing with aging infrastructure issues. However, I agree with the e-mailer who thinks GMU could have done a better job of explaining the  rate hike. I also think GMU and the city of Glenwood (which used to maintain our sewer system) needs to take some blame for allowing our infrastructure  system to get to this point, if it really is as bad as they say it is.