Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias One's first instinct may be to take a big gulp when hearing that Vermillion's water rates will be increasing soon.

A few things have to be kept in perspective, however.

Vermillion's water rates have remained unchanged since 1997. In other words, despite the fact that the city has been struggling in recent times with inadequate water mains and obsolete equipment at the treatment plant, it has been able to provide safe water to citizens every day.

In terms of service, then, Vermillion's glass is half full.

City officials have determined that, on average, a typical Vermillion citizen uses 775 cubic feet of water per month, and is currently paying $13.16 for that water. After the proposed rate increase takes effect, the average Vermillion water customer will pay $3.26 more each month.

In other words, for the price of a Happy Meal at a fast food restaurant, Vermillion citizens can insure that state of the art improvements will be made to the city's water distribution system. In terms of the financial impact to the citizenry, Vermillion's glass is half full.

How much does water cost in other South Dakota cities. Presently, at the $13.16 per 775 cubic feet rate, Vermillion has some of the cheapest water around. Lower rates can be found in Pipestone, MN, Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish and Brookings.

After the proposed rate increase takes effect, water prices in Vermillion will be nearly the same as those in Worthington, MN and Madison, and will still be significantly less than Sturgis, Aberdeen, Marshall, MN, and Luverne, MN. This fall, as Mitchell begins receiving water from the Missouri River, its average residential monthly water rate will soar from $12.69 to $25.09.

In terms of comparing water rates in other communities in the region, Vermillion's glass is half full.

It's easy to take water for granted. We just turn on our taps at our kitchen sinks and flush our toilets.

We flip on our dishwashers and laundry machines. We hook up our lawn sprinklers and we know that none of these activities never really require a second thought on our part. Water always flows to our homes.

The Melvin D. Stiegelmeyer water treatment plant in Vermillion is beginning to show its age. Its construction was completed in 1972, and it was designed as a 3 million gallons per day (MGD) facility.

The present average usage by the city of Vermillion is 1.1 MGD. The community's peak usage is just under 2 MGD.

The city's water is produced from five wells located along the north side of the Vermillion River which are capable of producing 2,600 gallons per minute.

The water is pumped to the plant, and the initial step in the treatment process is aeration to remove hydrogen sulfide and to aid in iron removal. Following aeration, the water enters a solid contact basin for mixing with lime, alum and and soda ash.

This causes minerals and other elements to settle to the bottom of the basin. They are removed in the form of sludge and discharged to drying lagoons.

Clarified water is removed from the surface of the basin and flows into the re-carbination basin where carbon dioxide is added to stabilize the water. Further clarification takes place as Vermillion's water passes through gravity filters. It then flows to a clear well storage area where chlorine and fluoride are added for final disinfection and tooth decay prevention.

Treated water is supplied to Vermillion's water distribution system from a 1.5 million gallon ground storage reservoir. The distribution system includes approximately 216,000 feet of water main ranging from four-inches to 16-inches in diameter.

Consider everything that must be done to make water safe to drink, and $16.42 per month suddenly seems like a bargain.

There has been discussion of implementing small annual water rate increases rather than waiting every three years or so to increase prices. Annual increases are a good idea. They would help the city be better financially prepared to make improvements.

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