Rehabbing Hagerstown’s water system will mean a water rate increase. A first phase should cost about $2.86 million, according to an engineer’s estimates.

Town Council has agreed to start replacing water lines based on an engineer’s system evaluation. Town Manager Chris LaMar said he hopes the entire network of water lines will be replaced eventually.

Council has known for years that the water system — with many cast iron lines dating back to 1930 — needs major repair. In 2023, a study from engineering firm Triad Associates found that the system is losing 57% of the town’s water after it’s pumped out of the ground but before it reaches customers. The firm estimated repair and replacement costs at $7.74 million to $10.83 million.

The council agreed to the first phase of renovation, affecting about 142 meters of the 925 on the system. Work will be on lines most needing repair and where lines are undersized for fire protection or other needs. Plastic lines made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) will be installed.

Council members acted during a Feb. 12 special meeting because the town wants to apply for $700,000 from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to help pay for the work. Application deadline is April 1.

If the town gets that grant, local ratepayers would have to come up with $2.16 million, according to Lou Slavka of Triad, which is designing the work. There is no guarantee the town will win funding but could reapply in the future. Construction would start about a year after funding is secured.

Discussion turned to how to pay the town’s cost. Consultant Michael Kleinpeter of Kleinpeter Associates said the town might qualify for a low-interest loan from the State Revolving Fund. The loan application is due June 28, and public hearings about the project would be required by April 1 and June 3. The town could also sell bonds or seek bank funding.

Whatever the funding source, the project will require a rate increase to pay for it, said council member Brian Longbons and LaMar. Over the several years needed to completely rehab the system, monthly bills will need to increase by $14-$16, Longbons estimated. The current base charge for 3,000 gallons a month is $24.88 plus $2.83 per 100 gallons.

Longbons suggested minimizing the impact by rescinding an electric rate increase of $6 to $7 monthly that is scheduled to take effect in June. The electric utility fund balance is healthy, he said.

Although this is considered the first phase of water system overhaul, the town completed reconstruction of water lines under five blocks of Main Street in 2018. The town finished paying for that in 2023.

The next regular council meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 4, in Town Hall, 49 E. College St. The public may attend.

Are PVC water lines safest for drinking water?

A 2023 report by health and environmental scientists raised concerns about the public health risks of polyvinyl chloride water lines leaching carcinogenic chemicals into drinking water, and recommended the use of stainless steel or copper pipes instead. Some U.S. cities are heeding the health warnings, but PVC remains a preferred material for water line replacement projects because of its low cost. The Environmental Protection Agency only requires that materials be lead-free.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 21 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.