As you’re filling your water bottle for the day or rinsing the last dish after dinner, do you ever stop to think about how that water makes its way to you? Or what life would be like without such easy access to it? Thanks to the efforts of the small, but mighty team at the Auburn Water Department (AWD), we usually don’t ever have to think about it. The AWD, comprised of 11 individuals, is responsible for overseeing the pumping, treatment and distribution of water throughout Auburn on a daily basis.
Every day of the week, the AWD production team checks wells and towers, tests samples, and monitors tower levels, pressure, pumping and flow rate. In between the required daily tasks, they perform regular maintenance to ensure equipment is clean and running as necessary. At the same time, a field team spends each day reading meters, handling utility locates and repairing water pipes or other parts of the distribution infrastructure.
Needless to say, the operations at the AWD never stop flowing—they are essential to ensuring Auburn citizens always have access to safe, clean water. That’s why techs are on call 24/7 for emergencies—like a missing valve lid, water bubbling out of the ground or a dreaded water main break.
For many, like AWD Superintendent Randy Harvey, the enormity of that responsibility is the current that drives him each day.
“I love what I do, and I know I’m contributing to the community in a significant way,” says Harvey, who started as a laborer in water distribution and has been with the department for over 17 years. “Water is not a commodity—it’s a necessity, so we do what we have to at all hours of the day to protect it. And many times, it involves long, painstaking hours.”
Planning for the Future
Part of Harvey’s responsibility includes preparing the city’s water infrastructure for the future. Specifically, Harvey will oversee the rehabilitation of the water tower so it remains viable for years to come as Auburn continues to grow. Additionally, aging water mains—some which are more than 120 years old—are in need of replacement. Plus, all water meters are due for an upgrade—a massive undertaking which will involve changing out water meters throughout town in phases. Both projects hope to begin in 2018.
As a municipally-owned utility, the AWD is a not-for-profit—which means Harvey and his team are acutely focused on operating as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. In fact—despite the enormous cost of operating a city-wide infrastructure of its size—the AWD has been able to maintain one the region’s lowest water costs.
One of the ways they’ve been able to maintain lower costs is completing work in-house as much as possible. Additionally, the team cross-trains to minimize the need for external resources.
The Cost of Water
Surprisingly, despite the operational costs associated with such an important city infrastructure, Auburn citizens receive one of the lowest water rates in the region: $2.49/per thousand gallons for the first 15,000 gallons—a rate that has not changed in nearly 20 years. However, growing operational costs and upcoming project costs have necessitated the AWD to commission a rate study and petition the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) for a rate increase.
The new proposed rate would be $3.74/per thousand gallons, along with a $3-4 increase in minimum monthly charges. And while it’s a significant increase, it’s still about $5-7 less than the rate in neighboring towns and cities. Harvey says the cost increases are unavoidable with a city infrastructure of the size, scale and age of Auburn’s—especially in light of all the new developments underway in the service area.
The IURC will conduct an evidentiary hearing in February 2018 and provide a final decision later in 2018.
Safe, Clean Water—Always
The Auburn Water Department is a valuable city resource—one we can’t live without. Harvey and his team at the AWD are committed to making sure you have access to pure, clean water on tap when you need it—now and for years to come.
(Photo credit: Haylee Harvey)