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Mary Kathryn Rank

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Delaware City is on track to overhaul its water treatment plant to meet Environmental Protection Agency compliance-related improvements by 2013.

Originally constructed in 1889, the facility has received a few upgrades and additions over the years, but the last substantial improvements were in 1976. Now, the city is working toward upgrades and plant rehabilitation to deal with maintenance and capacity issues.

City staff is currently working on a request for proposals that seeks design plans for the project, City spokesman Lee Yoakum said.

The more than $30 million in water system improvements include first-phase upgrades in a $10.4 million groundwater membrane plant and second-phase rehabilitation in a $13.5 million plant overhaul. The current water treatment plant plans were reduced from an original $60-million price tag to the $25-million range.

Already in the ground is the $4.3-million Hills Miller Road 24-inch waterline, which has been coming online in phases during the past few months, Yoakum said.

The new waterline helps alleviate pressure on the the city’s 16-inch waterline, the oldest transmission line dating to 1889 and running under U.S. 23. This line burst in late February after a severe snow storm and closed down the state route for about a week due to slippery sections and subsequent repair to the roadway.

Now that the Hills Miller Road waterline is mostly operational, it takes much of the pressure off the old transmission line, Yoakum said. About four or five city water users are connected to the old waterline, but a service connection line will be run from Hills Miller to serve those customers.

Once the 1880s-era line is out of service, the city will still be left with some older waterlines — between 50- to 80-years-old near Troy and London roads and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Many municipalities are facing similar water system issues since there was a mass of grant funding in the 70s for the Clean Water Act. Now that the equipment is aging and federal funding is drying up, those same municipalities are faced with the looming improvements.

Delaware City Council set a three-year water rate increase in 2010 to pay for the improvements. Average city water users last year saw a 15-percent increase from $23.31 to $26.81. This year, their bills have increased another 15 percent from $26.81 to $30.49. A 13-percent increase is set for 2012 from $30.49 to $33.63.

Delaware City Gary Milner said the EPA mandates date back to the early 2000s. At that time, council decided to spread out the increases instead of hitting residents with a 50- to 60-percent increase like many suburbs did.

Additional council action will be forthcoming, including approval of the design and construction firms, as well as how it will be financed, Milner said.

“It has to be done by 2013,” Milner said. “A fine will be attached if it’s not completed by then.”

Even if mandates weren’t in place, the city would need to consider options for improving the plant, city officials have said.

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