McKibbin’s Scribblin’s: Water plant shown as real need
Rifle’s nearly 35-year-old water treatment plant that has lasted longer than it should have developed problems this week that were initially portrayed as end-of-the-world on social media.
While the problem turned out to not be nearly as serious as first believed, residents were still asked to conserve water until the faulty piece of equipment could be inspected and the plant’s treatment capabilities restored.
But the problem certainly brings to light the need to build that new, $25 million water plant to replace the Graham Mesa plant.
To the credit of the past city council, they were the ones that finally made the politically sensitive decision to move ahead with the project, which has been at or near the top of the city’s to-do list for the last decade. While many in Rifle did not agree with the need or the financing plan for the plant, it was the right decision.
Unfortunately, delays in getting the required 22 permits for the 6 million gallon plant started a series of events that delayed the start of any major construction work until next spring. The project has yet to be awarded to a general contractor, then it will be another 16 to 24 months before it is finished.
So we may still have to deal with similar breakdowns and summer watering restrictions for at least another year or two.
Still, the criticism leveled at the city a year ago, when the water plant was the hot topic, was mostly off the mark. While city officials did not do a very good job of communicating the need for the new plant, it was discussed at countless public meetings and workshops over the years.
And I’ve always believed the most important duty any governing body has is public health, safety and welfare. A reliable, affective and efficient water treatment plant would seem to fit that definition.
I’ve read recent emails from advocacy groups about what seems to be a growing move to privatize municipal water systems. St. Louis, Mo., was one city highlighted, where that city’s leaders were considering a privatization proposal but declined it in the end. On the surface, such an arrangement sounds like a recipe for trouble. Rates would depend almost solely on a company’s bottom line, and that revenue would not go into city coffers. It would line the pockets of some company big wig.
Who would ensure the water system would be operated for the public benefit? What about the water system employees? They’d likely be replaced by workers the new owners favored and they would not be as familiar with a particular water system’s operation.
Rifle’s elected officials made the right decision in finally moving forward with the new plant. That decision seemed to have the strong support of voters, who approved a 3/4 cent sales tax to help with the financing.
A new plant won’t solve all of Rifle’s water issues. The aging water lines that snake through the city will still leak. Summer restrictions may still be needed from time to time, depending on how hot it is and if there’s good winter snowpacks.
But the water should taste better, which is the number one complaint Rifle residents have of the current water system.
And we’ll still likely see annual water rate hikes, just as we have with the current plant. So there’s good and bad, just like anything else.
But Rifle needs a stable, efficient, high-quality water system to help support future growth. Thankfully, we can all hope a key part of one will soon be on the way.
Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.
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Motorists and passersby could see a refreshed gateway to Rifle along Interstate 70 in the future.