Bloomington utilities could be “coming home” to old site, as Miller Drive center is “bursting at the seams”

At the Aug. 1 meeting of Bloomington’s utilities service board (USB), utilities director Vic Kelson told USB members that the current Miller Drive service center is “bursting at the seams.”

That was not new information to the board—because city of Bloomington utilities already has a master plan for an alternate site where the service center could be moved. That’s the former Winston Thomas wastewater treatment plant property, which is located on Walnut Street, on the edge of the current city limits. It’s north of the Bloomington animal shelter.

It’s also a former EPA Superfund site. The master plan refers to that history: “Of course, the legacy of the site is not all roses. Environmental damage was done here.”

Kelson’s remarks served to brief the whole USB on a meeting of its property and planning committee, which had met earlier that day to review the master plan.

Kelson said he would like to move on a plan to relocate the service center to the Winston Thomas “as quickly as we can,” noting that it’s a complicated project. Kelson added, “Certainly the administration downtown would like us to move as quickly as it’s possible for us to make decisions about it.”

Deputy mayor Don Griffin attended the committee meeting, telling members “We support this project, or at least going forward with this project—100 percent.”

The Winston Thomas site is currently used for material storage—like manholes, culvert sections, and concrete pipe. It is also where construction debris taken from various Bloomington public works projects. Continue reading “Bloomington utilities could be “coming home” to old site, as Miller Drive center is “bursting at the seams””

Waste-to-energy study could see cost split: Bloomington utilities, Monroe County solid waste

The aerial image of the city of Bloomington Blucher Poole waste water treatment plant northeast of Bloomington, dated April 2020, is from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s property lookup system.

Energy Power Partners has responded to a city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) request, with a proposal to conduct a $129,220 waste-to-energy feasibility study.

The study would cover scenarios involving the generation of biogas by using anaerobic digestion of primary sludge from the Blucher Poole wastewater treatment plan, adding FOG (fats, oil and grease) and food waste as feedstock from various large waste generators, and the workability of private-sector partnerships for construction, operations and maintenance—among other possibilities.

Last Thursday, a proposal to share the study’s cost between the Monroe County solid waste district and the city of Bloomington utilities was put off until next month by the governing bodies of both public agencies.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the agencies will likely appear on an April meeting agenda for both of the governance groups. Continue reading “Waste-to-energy study could see cost split: Bloomington utilities, Monroe County solid waste”

When it rains, it sewers: Monday’s overflow first in 8 months for Bloomington utilities

On Monday, city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) posted an alert on Facebook about a sanitary sewer overflow on Rogers Street between Charlie Avenue and Old State Road 37.

The red arrow indicates the location of the Charlie Avenue and Rogers Street sanitary sewer overflow. That location, like many plotted on the map, has seen more than one overflow in the last quarter century. The dots are partly transparent so that more than one incident is visible. Note: The size of the dots corresponds to the number of gallons estimated in the overflow, not the geographic extent of the overflow.

The Facebook posting advised: “Any individual who has come into direct contact with untreated sewage is advised to wash their hands and clothing thoroughly.”

What caused the overflow?

Based on a dataset maintained by the city of Bloomington, which goes back more than a quarter century, the most frequent cause of a sanitary sewer overflow is “precipitation.”

And the early-week sanitary sewer overflow at Rogers Street and Charlie Avenue squares up with the 2.15 inches of rain that fell on Bloomington on Monday. That’s the amount reported by the National Weather Service for the 24-hours ending at 7 p.m. on March 7, 2022.

What’s the connection between heavy rain and sanitary sewer overflows? And what is CBU doing about it, to prevent future sanitary sewer overflows? Continue reading “When it rains, it sewers: Monday’s overflow first in 8 months for Bloomington utilities”

Midnight work on courthouse square part of routine meter upgrade by Bloomington utilities

When a city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) crew is out around midnight busting up a street with heavy equipment, it often means there’s been a water main break.

But on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, it was some routine updates that brought the CBU crew out to the west side of the courthouse square on College Avenue.

According to workers on the scene, confirmed on Wednesday morning by CBU communications manager Holly McLauchlin, Tuesday night’s project involved upgrading the water service to the building on that side of the square. Continue reading “Midnight work on courthouse square part of routine meter upgrade by Bloomington utilities”

Miller-Showers Park ponds to get mapped as prep for possible dredging

Miller-Showers Park looking east. The image is from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property lookup system.

The mallard ducks and great blue heron that sometimes hang out at Miller-Showers Park, on the north side of Bloomington, could see some mechanical company sometime in the next week or so.

A company called Heartland Dredging will be pinging the depths of the waters, to chart out an underwater map of the sedimentation in the detention ponds.

The detention ponds at Miller-Showers Park are part of the city’s northside stormwater management infrastructure. Stormwater from more than 170 acres of the city drains into the Miller-Showers facility, and eventually farther downstream. Continue reading “Miller-Showers Park ponds to get mapped as prep for possible dredging”

Reports of bad tasting Bloomington water continue, CBU says good taste will take a while to work its way back through pipes

The April 20202 image of Bloomington’s water treatment plant is from the Pictometry module of the Monroe County online property lookup system.

On Monday, reports of Bloomington’s tap water tasting and smelling bad continued to come into the city’s uReport system.

One example: “The smell and taste of the water has been absolutely disgusting for at least three weeks. Has the cause been found yet? It makes me nauseated to run the tap in my home.”

At Monday’s meeting of the utilities service board (USB), city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) director Vic Kelson told members the taste and odor issue had essentially been solved.  But it will take a while for the good tasting water to work its way through the distribution system, Kelson added.

A point of emphasis in communications from CBU over the last several days  has been that the bad taste and smell pose no danger to human health.

The cause of the dirt or fish taste, according to Kelson, is naturally occurring chemicals that are produced by algal blooms in Lake Monroe—geosmin and methyl-isoborneol (MIB).

Kelson said the long hot spell with no rain towards the end of the summer had led to a large algal bloom in Lake Monroe, the source of Bloomington’s drinking water. But results from an outside lab received Monday indicated the algal bloom has diminished dramatically since last week, Kelson said.

Water treatment plant staff had increased the feed rate of powdered activated carbon (PAC), which helps with the odor, Kelson said. The amount of additional PAC will be eased off as the quality of the water coming into the plant continues to improve, Kelson said. PAC started getting added routinely to the drinking water mix in 2017.

That doesn’t mean all of Bloomington’s water will start tasting and smelling better at the same time. Starting at the water treatment plant at Lake Monroe, for a drop of water to make its way through the pipes to the farthest point in the distribution system takes seven to 10 days, Kelson said. Continue reading “Reports of bad tasting Bloomington water continue, CBU says good taste will take a while to work its way back through pipes”

Water rate increase: Bloomington reaches settlement “in principle” with IU, other rate case opponents

CBU drinking water station set up on 6th Street in connection with the Lotus Festival last weekend.

A planned water rate increase for Bloomington utilities (CBU) customers will likely be put in place as planned on Jan. 1, 2022.

That was the big news out of Monday’s regular meeting of Bloomington’s utilities service board (USB).

At Monday’s meeting, CBU director Vic Kelson told the board that a settlement in principle had been reached last week with all the interveners in the case, which include Indiana University and Washington Township Water Authority.

Kelson told the USB he could not discuss any details, but the filing of the settlement with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) is supposed to be done by Oct. 6, with a hearing set for Oct. 22.

The case for increased water rates is currently going through the IURC review process, after the Bloomington city council’s mid-March approval  of the higher rates, which are to be phased in, with increases in 2022 and 2024.

Residential CBU customers will pay a total of 22 percent more over the course of four years.

Other customers like Indiana University, will see higher increases under the proposal, around double what residential customers will see.

The 22-percent increase brings the residential customer rate to $4.54 for every 1,000 gallons. Continue reading “Water rate increase: Bloomington reaches settlement “in principle” with IU, other rate case opponents”

Bad Bloomington water taste not a threat to human health, possibly caused by algae, says CBU

“Our water tastes and smells like mold,” reads a complaint logged in the city’s uReport system on Sept. 15 by a city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) customer.

A Bloomington cat was still willing to drink Bloomington tap water on Sept. 14, 2021.

Reports like that have been coming in from all parts of the city, CBU communications manager Holly McLauchlin told the B Square on Tuesday.

McLauchlin said the bad taste and odor don’t pose a threat to human health or safety. That’s also part of the message in a news release that was issued by the city early Wednesday afternoon.

It’s possible that the bad taste and odor are caused by increased levels of algae in Lake Monroe, which is the source of Bloomington’s drinking water, McLauchlin said.

[Updated at 12:22 p.m. on Sept. 16, 2021: CBU has now confirmed the cause of bad taste and order is increased levels of algae in Lake Monroe.]

On Tuesday, McLauchlin told The B Square that CBU was investigating the cause of the bad taste and odor. One of several possibilities being explored was a potential problem with the mechanism used by CBU to add powdered activated carbon (PAC) to the city’s drinking water. It now appears unlikely that’s the cause. Continue reading “Bad Bloomington water taste not a threat to human health, possibly caused by algae, says CBU”

Bloomington city council OKs water rate increase, IU to try intervention with state regulators

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved a water rate increase for city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) customers.

This screenshot of the March 17, 2021 Bloomington city council meeting, conducted on Zoom, shows Vic Kelson, city of Bloomington utilities director.

The water rate increase will come in two phases, in 2022 and 2024. Residential customers will pay a total of 22 percent more over the course of four years.

Other customers like Indiana University, will see higher increases, around double what residential customers will see.

The 22-percent increase brings the residential customer rate to $4.54 for every 1,000 gallons.

After adding in increases for site charge and fire charge (from $5.89 to $6.58 and from $1.96 to $2.17) after the two phases of increase, an “average” 3,500-gallon residential customer would see a monthly increase of around $3.74 in water fees—from $20.91 to $24.64. That works out to about $45 more per year.

The water rate increase was not controversial for city councilmembers. It passed on a 9-0 vote.

As a separate ordinance, the city council approved the issuance of $17.2 million in revenue bonds, to support the capital improvement plan connected to the rate increase.

Customers will see higher bills starting in early 2022, if the water rate increase gets approval from the state.

All utilities rate increases have to be reviewed and approved by the state’s regulatory body, which is the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).

CBU’s largest customer, which is Indiana University, will intervene with the IURC and try to lower the rate increase that applies to IU, which is about double the rate increase for residential customers. Continue reading “Bloomington city council OKs water rate increase, IU to try intervention with state regulators”

IU official on planned Bloomington water rate increase: “This is a rate shock to Indiana University.”

At its Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s seven-member utilities service board (USB) voted unanimously, with one abstention, to recommend a proposal to the city council that water rates be increased starting in 2022.

Abstaining was USB member Jason Banach. He’s a former city councilmember who represented District 2 from 1996 to 2005.

Before the USB took up the item, Banach announced that his employer is Bloomington’s largest water customer, adding, “It’s out of an abundance of caution that I’ll be recusing myself from this discussion and abstaining from the vote.” Banach works for Indiana University as the university’s director of real estate.

It is the university that is likely to be the strongest opponent of the water rate increase.

The proposed water rate increase would come in two phases, in 2022 and 2024, with residential customers paying a total of 22 percent more over the course of four years. Customers would see higher bills starting in early 2022.

After the two phases are implemented, Indiana University, which is a separate class of customer, would pay 39.7 percent more than it does now. IU also pays for water as an irrigation customer, and all irrigation customers would see a 43.9 percent increase over the two phases.

At Tuesday’s USB meeting, Indiana University assistant vice president for utilities Keith Thompson told the board: “IU is not happy with a 40-percent rate increase, even though it’s coming in two phases.” Thompson added, “This is a rate shock to Indiana University.”

The higher increases for IU and for irrigation customers is based on a cost of service study, done by a city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) consultant, which says that residential customers have been subsidizing other classes of customers.

Director of utilities Vic Kelson had previously reported to the USB that Indiana University is not happy with the proposed rate increase.

If the city council approves the water rate increase as proposed, Thompson said, IU would likely intervene in the case that goes in front of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC). Any water rate increase would have to be reviewed by the IURC. Continue reading “IU official on planned Bloomington water rate increase: “This is a rate shock to Indiana University.””