City Council Special Meeting on April 8 addresses water and sewer improvements, rates
City Council recap of April 8 meeting

City Council held a special meeting on April 8 to hold a public review of the plan to upgrade the water infrastructure over the next 5-1/2 years at an estimated cost of $24 million. Since few residents attended the meeting, most will be getting their information from the city’s news platforms, such as this article and the city website. In the absence of Mayor Brian Turnbull, Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Moroski-Browne conducted the meeting.

At the request of DPW Director Mike Domine, OHM Engineer Chris Elenbass presented a report on the city’s aging water infrastructure and reviewed the plan to maintain the city’s water quality while improving the delivery system.

The plan involves extensive repair and replacement projects that will equalize water pressure, reduce water breaks, and deliver a more reliable water system that also meets the requirements of EGLE. A few years ago, EGLE flagged the need to replace the city’s underground water storage reservoir since it could no longer be inspected and was at risk of taking on rain water. Since then, the city developed a plan/schedule to close the underground reservoir and associated pump station near Hillside Middle School and build a new booster pump station at Baseline near Center. This portion of the infrastructure project needs to begin in 2025 and be completed in 2027 to meet EGLE’s requirements.

Other parts of the project involve replacing an estimated 21,320 feet of 8- to 12-inch water main; installing new pressure-reducing valves; and replacing 35 lead service lines. Much of the water main replacement will be done in conjunction with repaving older, worn streets. The lead service line component will adhere to Michigan’s lead and copper rules.

New pressure-reducing valve (PRV) connections will be made at Potomac and Rogers, Baseline and Center, and at Cady near Wing. This will equalize water pressure in all sections of the city.
Additionally, several areas will have watermain added to create a “loop.” This eliminates dead-end areas in the water system and also enhances reliability and water flow.

Also at the meeting, John Kaczor of Municipal Analytics presented results of the water/sewer rate study that evaluated the city’s current rate structure and also incorporated financing the water infrastructure projects. A utility system’s revenue requirements include operations and maintenance, capital, and debt service. Established rates need to recover all costs and meet a cash reserve requirement. Nearly 100% of sewer costs are fixed, yet the rate is 100% variable. More than 60% of water costs are fixed, yet only 7% of revenue is fixed.

Kaczor outlined a plan that would issue a bond in 2025 for $14.5 million to pay for three years of work and a second bond for $8 million in FY 2028/2029 to pay for another two years. To help finance the infrastructure program, a system-wide rate increase of 10% is recommended. However, the individual cost impact will vary based on a customer’s meter size and consumption. City Council will need to decide the best combination of variable and fixed components of the rate structure to implement. In each scenario, a new fixed cost called “Ready to Serve” will be introduced and is intended to cover a portion of the fixed costs.

To illustrate the impact of costs on users, Kaczor showed profiles of six different types of users: low, medium and high volume with different meter sizes – with and without an irrigation system. Those with an irrigation system who use a dual meter may not have to pay for the sewer portion of their water bill (currently set at 50%) that’s used outdoors on lawns and gardens.

Council will vote on the proposed rate adjustments at a future meeting.

City Manager George Lahanas noted that GLWA offers assistance to customers who can’t afford their water bills. He also said that any grants obtained in association with the project would reduce the overall cost.

Lahanas thanked Council for holding the meeting and praised the work of DPW Director Domine and Finance Director Sandi Wiktorowski, among others. He said the meeting provided good information for Council members as well as residents.

Council Member John Carter said, “As a community, we’ve shown the ability to work through challenges and find thoughtful and strategic solutions and work toward long-term plans. There’s an opportunity here to establish a structure and approach to benefit generations to come.”

View the City Council special meeting here

View presentation here.
Public Hearing held on water infrastructure
 A public hearing was held on May 9, 2023 at Northville City Hall by the Department of Public Works to discuss projects designed to upgrade the city’s aging water infrastructure. City Manager George Lahanas conducted the meeting that included an OHM Advisors’ presentation, which gave an overview of repair and replacement projects designed to deliver a more reliable water system.

Project construction will involve replacement and installation of approximately 21,320 feet of 8-inch to 12-inch water main; closing down the city’s underground water storage reservoir and associated pump station; construction of a new booster pump station; installation of new pressure-reducing valves; and replacement of 35 lead service lines. (View the presentation in the download section below.)

DPW Director Mike Domine will present a resolution on the water infrastructure project to City Council at the May 15 meeting.

History of the city’s water supply
The city of Northville’s water system dates to approximately 1892 when water was sourced from springs located just northwest of the city along Beck Road. Numerous sections of the existing water main date to that original system and have provided more than 100 years of reliable service but those water mains are wearing out – resulting in uneven pressure that can cause water main breaks.

By the 1930’s sand filters and an underground reservoir were constructed just south of the existing elevated storage tank on Baseline Road. In the 1960’s the sand filters were removed from service with the change to water supply from Detroit, yet the original filter structure and adjacent underground reservoir remain in service today. This structure holds more than 500,000 gallons of water and serves as the current discharge point for water from the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). A pump station was added to the filter building in the 1960’s and is used to fill the city’s elevated storage tank, aka the water tower.

Since the 1960’s, minimal improvements to the original water system have been made beyond expansion to service new portions of the city and sporadic water main replacement. In the oldest portions of the system, water mains are undersized by current standards.

Deficiencies in the water system
In late 2022, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) issued an Administrative Consent Order (ACO), requiring the city to acknowledge and communicate their progress towards addressing issues outlined in a Significant Deficiencies Violation Notice received in March 2022. As a result of the ACO, the city commissioned OHM to conduct a Water Feasibility Study to investigate the city’s options to comply with Act 399 requirements. The draft feasibility study currently recommends removal of the underground reservoir and associated pump control house. Water will be conveyed from GLWA through a new booster station near Center Street and Baseline Road to the existing elevated storage tank, and pressure-reducing valves will be added to reinstate proper north/south pressure districts.

Project costs
The total estimated cost for all projects is $24 million, which would cost the average city water user an additional $103 bi-monthly. This cost may be offset by other factors, such as grant money the city may receive through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program; projects that may obtain additional funding sources; or new users from redevelopment at Foundry Flask and the Downs.

Delaying the projects will result in increased long-term costs, potential administrative issues with EGLE, increasing water main breaks, and ongoing problems with the overall water system.

Where new water mains are required along city streets in poor condition, the improvements are planned to coincide with much needed road improvements, resulting in lower overall costs by coordinating the construction efforts.

None of the projects identified is required due to the proposed Downs site redevelopment.

Financing the program through a state program and potential federal funding

Michigan's Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) is designed to assist in satisfying the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act by offering low-interest 20-year loans. Currently loan rates for FY23 are 1.875% and the planning document estimates FY24 rates will be 2.75% based on current market trends. The available loan rates are typically well below otherwise available bond rates.

On Nov. 15, 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed into law. Referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), it included an appropriation to the EPA to strengthen the nation’s drinking water and wastewater systems. A sizeable portion of the BIL dollars will flow through the state of Michigan’s DWSRF program and represent an opportunity for the city to receive a grant allocation in the form of loan principal forgiveness depending on project plan scoring and available funds. Due to the city’s current ACO and need for lead service line replacement, the DWSRF Project Planning Document was prepared to potentially receive grant funding in addition to the available low-interest loan. Potential grant funding levels are unknown and will not be published until early Fall 2023 after the state’s review of all submitted project plans.
  • Water reports at April 8, 2024 Special Meeting
  • OHM report at Public Hearing on May 9, 2023