Despite dredging Lake Decatur, city to spend millions more to increase water supply
The city of Decatur will spend over $160 million to dredge Lake Decatur when interest, fees, and the costs of a previous dredging attempt are incorporated into the costs. Despite dredging, the city does not have the water supply it needs to withstand the most severe drought. The reason for the reduced drought resiliency appears to be a 2022 agreement with ADM.
In August 2022, the Decatur City Council approved an amended agreement with ADM that allows it to sell, transfer, or give away a portion of the 24 million gallons per day of non-potable water from Lake Decatur that it is allocated. In approving the ability to sell, transfer or give away water that previously remained in the lake (the average demand of ADM’s North Water Treatment Plant in 2017 was 15.9 million gallons per day), the amount of water used by all users combined could exceed the amount of water available in the event of the most severe drought. A discussion of how to increase our water supply in the event of the most severe drought and other water related topics will take place at a study session at the South Water Treatment Plant on September 25 at 5:30 PM.
According to a December 2021 report by Intera, the company that performed a water supply study for the city, the least costly options to meet the now increased demands during a substantial drought is to obtain water from the former Vulcan Pit and Lake Toko. The May 2019 estimate by Intera to use water from the former Vulcan Pit was $1.3 million, while the 2019 estimate to use water from Lake Toko ranged from $7.9 million to $12.8 million. In other words, when the city council agreed to allow ADM to use its allocated water to sell, give away, etc., it now necessitates that the city council authorize over $9 million in additional funds to increase our water supply to ensure the city has enough water during the most severe drought.
Furthermore, if Decatur wants to attract new industrial water customers, it will need to acquire additional water sources and possibly invest in additional infrastructure to move the water from the lake to the user. This additional investment beyond the $9 million described above must occur whether ADM uses its 24 million gallons per day allocation or not. As per the December 2021 report by Intera, the next most economical source of water would be the DeWitt Well Field improvements (estimated cost = $5.4 million) or DeWitt Well Field improvements with a pipeline (estimated cost = $28.5 million).
The study session memo provided to the city council claims that “Providing sufficient water, sewer, broadband and transportation access … can be expected to bring more investment to Decatur, add to the population over time, and thereby improve city revenues.” While there is no doubt that significant industrial investment has been made in recent years, the city’s population has declined every year since dredging began, the labor force has declined even faster, and water rates are increasing substantially. Thus, taxpayers can expect to see continued increases in their water rates for years to come to pay for water projects that may not be necessary.
It is important to note that while the city will spend over $160 million to have dredged Lake Decatur, and millions more with additional water supply projects, Lake Decatur continues to fill with sediment. According to the report “Lake Decatur Watershed Management Plan & Initiative – Long-Term Strategy”, the majority of sediment settling in Lake Decatur originates from within Macon County. Thus, until the city council fully funds our watershed management initiatives, the best farmland on planet Earth will continue to settle to the bottom of Lake Decatur, and our taxpayers will continue to pay millions of dollars to increase water supply to a lake whose water capacity is continuously shrinking.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE CITY COUNCIL STUDY SESSION
Citizens are encouraged to attend the study session and express their views. Citizens are allotted 3 minutes per person near the beginning of the study session. If you would like to discuss city issues with a council member, phone numbers and email addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/. An agenda and information about the study session can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/.