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Tim Hayden
Water Utility Supervisor
37 N. Water Street W
Fort Atkinson WI 53538

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(920) 563-7760

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Municipal Building
101 N. Main Street
Fort Atkinson WI 53538

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September 20, 2021
Water mains to be replaced, water rate increased

Residents in the City of Fort Atkinson will soon see regular replacement of outdated water mains thanks to a rate increase, under a novel financing approach, approved by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

The average residential bill will increase about $15 per month or $30 per bill with the City’s bi-monthly billing schedule.

The municipality will be only the third utility in the state approved by the Commission for rate increases to be directly allocated for future water main replacement and avoid expensive borrowing. In Fort Atkinson, the replacement will occur at a rate of 1% or just over 3,800 feet of main per year.

The Fort Atkinson Water Utility, formed in 1901, includes over 72 miles of main, an underground network of water supply, which costs the City approximately $90,000 per year in the repair of breaks. This network of subterranean pipes move water supply to meet daily demands of residents and businesses, store water to meet peak demand and are a crucial component of fire suppression.

Although some of the City’s water main was laid as early as 1908, these turn-of-the-century pipes are not an immediate concern – their condition is stable with an estimated useful life of 150 years. The true culprit in serial main breaks is a network of pipes installed between 1944 and 1972 utilizing a method known as spin casting, a bad manufacturing process, no longer used. These spun cast water mains comprise 25% of the pipe network across Fort Atkinson and are already failing throughout the City.

The 72 miles of main are comprised of 6.4 miles over 100 years old, 10.2 miles of main between 75 and 100 years old, 18.3 miles of spun cast main between 75 and 50 years old, 17.9 miles of main between 50 and 25 years old and 19.9 miles of main less than 25 years old.

“Replacement of spun cast main has been sporadic due to funding, with projects occurring in five of the last 12 years, with an average of just over 900 feet per year replaced. A dedicated effort to replace this main is needed and a proactive approach to older, yet serviceable main will follow,” said Andy Selle, Director of Public Works, during testimony to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

The Public Service Commission has always required utilities to borrow for major construction projects because they didn’t feel like the existing customers should be paying for something that will last for 50 to 100 years,” Selle said. “Their rationale was at least you spread the cost of this out to maybe more than one generation of customers.”

Selle said that method forces the utility to borrow for almost every replacement and there is a limit to how much money the utility can borrow.
“When you borrow over a 10-year period you are paying about 20-30% more on that project in interest. You are compounding a problem with respect to cost.”
Several years ago the City of Marshfield came before the Public Service Commission with an innovative proposal to fund the replacement of their water mains with a rate increase. The utility needed to replace all of its water mains and would be bankrupt if they borrowed for all of it.

“They asked to raise the rates in order to fund the replacement the same year,” Selle said. “They went through the process and they approved it.”

The City of Janesville was in the same position and their rate was also approved and the City of Fort Atkinson followed.

If the Fort Atkinson Water Utility replaces 3,800 feet or 1% of main per year it will take 25 years to replace the failed spun cast main and 24 years to replace main that is older than 75 years old. Mains installed before 1973 will be close to 100 years old by the time all of the spun cast mains and mains installed prior to 1946 are replaced.

Cash funding 1% of water main replacement consistently each year will allow for all payers to contribute to the cost of water main replacements over time, instead of falling on the payers of one generation alone, Selle said.

Over the last decade, the City has spent about $90,000 per year patching broken water mains. Reducing this wasted expense is a priority for the Utility, in addition to minimizing the service outages to customers affected by these breaks.

The City has not pursued a rate increase since 2013. The new rates will become effective with water used beginning Oct. 1. The overall rate increase will be reflected on utility bills at an average of $15 per month. It’s important to note only the water rate is affected by the rate increase, even though water bills list water, wastewater, fire protection and storm water.

Fort Atkinson’s water rate has been on the lower end of the water rates for similar sized communities for a number of years, as rate cases of similar nature are approved by the Public Service Commission the Utility expects to be in a similar situation rate wise in the coming years.

“This money is only going to main replacement. It can’t be used for anything else,” Selle emphasized. “We have money for roads, but we don’t have a dedicated funding source for water main, but yet our water main is getting older. Every year that network of distribution pipes is aging and if we don’t replace it we’re going to run into a situation where it’s all going to break.”

The City will pair up road construction projects with water main and sanitary sewer replacements to avoid tearing up the road more than necessary.
“As director of public works, I ensure that coordination of those efforts,” Selle said.






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