A 3.5 percent increase in water rates received the preliminary approval of the Fort Dodge City Council on a 6-1 vote Monday.
If it wins final approval, the increase would cost Fort Dodge homeowners an additional 75 cents to $3 a month, according to Mayor Matt Bemrich.
The increase must be approved two more times to become effective. It would go into effect Jan. 1.
The increase is needed to meet the increased costs of running the John W. Pray Water Treatment Plant, which was recently updated with the addition of a reverse osmosis system to reduce the hardness of the city’s drinking water, according to officials.
But City Manager David Fierke cautioned that future increases may be needed.
“It will not be enough,” he said in response to a question from Councilman Neven Conrad. “We will be dipping into the reserves significantly.”
Tony Trotter, a former city engineer who now works for McClure Engineering Co. in Fort Dodge, said projected costs for running the updated water plant were established in 2017.
He said that since then, the cost of chemicals needed to run the plant has increased by 20 percent to 50 percent.
He added that the cost of electricity needed to run the plant has risen from 8 cents per kilowatt hour to 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour.
“Somebody somewhere between Point A and Point B failed to notify somebody that these costs were climbing through the ceiling,” Councilman Terry Moenhke said.
“We’re in danger of making water unaffordable in the community,” he added.
He suggested using extra filtration to reduce chemical costs and the installation of solar panels to reduce electrical costs.
Councilmembers Kim Alstott, Dave Flattery, Andy Fritz, Lydia Schuur, Moehnke and Conrad voted to approve the first reading of the increase.
Councilman Jeff Halter voted no.
He said the rate increase would be a “wonderful thing for our newly elected council members to be part of.”
“It should be left up to you,” he said, pointing to councilmen-elect Quennel McCaleb and Cameron Nelson, who were sitting next to each other in the audience.
The John W. Pray Water Treatment Plant on Phinney Park Drive produces about 9.2 million gallons of pure, safe drinking water on an average day. On days when demand is high it has produced up to 11 million gallons.
The reverse osmosis system was added to comply with a requirement from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. That agency ruled that too much chloride was in the treated water being discharged from the wastewater treatment plant. Since there is no cost-effective way to reduce chlorides in the wastewater treatment process, engineers recommended the reverse osmosis at the water facility.
Most of the chlorides in the wastewater come from the salt used in water softeners in the community. If residents and businesses did not have to use their water softeners as much, there would be less chloride in the wastewater, so the City Council approved reverse osmosis as a way to reduce the hardness of the water.
Installing reverse osmosis and doing some work on a couple of wells cost about $25.3 million.
Trotter said the construction projects came in under budget.
Work at the water plant began in 2019. The reverse osmosis system started running last May.