The possibility of finding Fenton a better-quality water source has been tossed around for several years, and city council could decide to pay to explore it. Fenton’s wells meet quantity demands for water, said Stephen Guy, water plant supervisor. An issue is the hardness of Fenton’s water, which makes it more expensive to treat, Guy said.
A better quality water to start with in the treatment process should result in a better quality end product and a minor reduction in treatment costs, Guy said. In addition, better quality water would mean less sludge production and lower sludge removal costs at the plant.
And better water quality would be a risk aversion tool for future cost spikes for sodium hydroxide, the chemical the city uses to treat its hard water, he said. The chemical costs $1.55 per gallon now, but it once tripled to $4.50 per gallon when ethanol plants started using a lot of it and increased demand.
At the request of city administrators, AMEC-BCI Engineers & Scientists, Inc. (AMEC), of Brighton, proposes a not-to-exceed cost of $10,970 for the first part of a two-step process. Task 1 includes the initial well screening process, to locate the best potential well site to meet Fenton’s goal, said Mark Sweatman, Michigan regional manager for AMEC.
There is a small well at in Fenton where water hardness is very low, which could have potential. It’s behind the restrooms and other buildings at the park, Guy said.
AMEC would examine resources Fenton already has, coming up with three possible sites in the city for drilling holes and finding out what the water quality is, Sweatman said. Another factor is getting the water from a new location to the city’s water plant. AMEC would work with Guy and other city staff regarding the location of infrastructure Fenton has in place.
The second part of AMEC’s work, depending on how deeply council wants to investigate, could cost $20,000 to $500,000. The upper end of the scale for Task 2 includes well drilling, which can cost $200,000 to $500,000, depending on how deep it goes — 200 feet, 400 feet or 600 feet, for example, Sweatman said.
At the end of Task 1, council can set clear criteria for where it wants to end Task 2, he said. In addition, Fenton officials would need to make decisions along the way, about whether to continue the search for higher-quality water, not continue it or embark on a better way to do it.
Water is very important in Michigan, he said. It costs $1.50 for a small bottle of water, which compares closely with the price of a gallon of gasoline.
Guy said, compared to other areas, Fenton’s water has a high level of hardness. Fenton’s water is 530 for hardness, while Holly’s level is 360 and Howell’s is 300. Even after treatment, Fenton water has a higher level of noncarbonate hardness (60 to 75 parts per million) than water from these other communities (60 noncarbonate hardness for Holly's water, and 0 for Howell's).
Councilman Les Bland said he doesn’t have a problem with the proposal, and he’d like to see the question answered if Fenton can afford it. The qality of Fenton’s water isn’t the treatment plant’s fault, Bland said. It’s the water that the city is pumping into the plant from the ground.
His concern is spending $10,000 to $40,000 and still coming up empty-handed. City officials need to make sure Fenton can afford it.
On the question of Fenton tapping into a new water plant being built near Swartz Creek, City Manager Lynn Markland said Fenton would still owe the debt on its own water plant.
Regarding the amount of city water bills, Councilwoman Pat Lockwood suggested an investigation of monthly, rather than quarterly, billing. Most people budget for a month at a time, Lockwood said. In addition, she believes Fenton needs to remove its quarterly recycling fee of $13.50 from the water bills, to lower the amount on the water bill.
Mayor Sue Osborn suggested a separate bill for recycling.
Bland said water bills include charges for water, sewer and recycling, not just water.
Council asked the city manager for more information and discussed having a rate study performed.