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.””

Bloomington’s proposed water rate increase: Residential customers would pay 22% more, reducing but not eliminating subsidy to others

A proposed water rate increase by the city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) would have the average residential customer paying about $45 more per year in water fees by 2024.

The proposal got a first look from the finance committee of the city’s utilities service board (USB) at its Monday afternoon meeting.

The proposal that CBU is making, for all classes of water customers, will first go to the full USB, and eventually to the city council in February. After that, it will still need to get approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).

The rate increase for Bloomington’s residential water customers works out to around 22 percent more than they pay now. That’s a smaller increase than for any other class of customer.

But the 22-percent increase is more than it would be, if the cost of service were distributed perfectly across all customer classes.

Residential customers now pay more than their fair share of the cost of providing water service, according to a cost-of-service study done by Indianapolis-based Crowe LLP.

The rate increase proposal from CBU would make progress towards reducing the subsidy provided by residential customers, but would not eliminate it.

Other classes of customers that are now subsidized by residential customers are: commercial, governmental, interdepartmental; industrial; wholesale; Indiana University; and irrigation. Continue reading “Bloomington’s proposed water rate increase: Residential customers would pay 22% more, reducing but not eliminating subsidy to others”

Grease is the word…at the end of FOG: Bloomington council revises law on how restaurants keep fats, oils out of sewer

An aerial view of the Dillman Road wastewater treatment facility south of Bloomington, where grease from the city’s FOG (fat, oil and grease) program can be hauled, where it oxidizes in the sun. (The image is dated April 2020 in the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property records.)

“The way we handle grease at the [Dillman Road wastewater treatment] plant, it’s actually discharged into a lagoon where it is oxidized in the sun.”

That was city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) director Vic Kelson talking to the Bloomington city council on Wednesday about the grease that about 600 local restaurants clean out of their traps and are allowed to haul to the city’s wastewater treatment plant south of town.

The item on the city council’s agenda was a change to the ordinance on the FOG (fats, oils, and grease) program, which requires restaurants (food service establishments) to use grease traps to keep it from clogging up the city’s sanitary sewer system. The ordinance change was approved unanimously.

After the ordinance change, the program is still in place but gives restaurants a cheaper option in grease retention devices. The revised ordinance also establishes a “preferred pumper program” for haulers to take the grease from the traps, which have to be cleaned out on a regular basis, down to the city’s Dillman road facility. Continue reading “Grease is the word…at the end of FOG: Bloomington council revises law on how restaurants keep fats, oils out of sewer”

Bloomington’s planned case for water rate increase delayed until early 2021

The average for each day from 2012 to 2019 is plotted in gray. For 2020, plotted in blue, the data have been smoothed out by calculating a 7-day rolling average.

One dollar is enough to make around 300 gallons of pour out of any residential faucet that’s hooked up to City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) water.

The residential price of $3.69 per 1,000 gallons, like the rest of the city’s water rates, will stay in place for a while longer.

That bit of news was delivered by CBU director Vic Kelson at last Thursday night’s city council budget hearings. Kelson told the city council that before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, CBU had planned to bring a rate review to the city council in July this year.

Kelson said the current plan is to bring a rate increase proposal to the city council sometime in the first three months of 2021. It will also be reviewed by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC). Any approved water-rate changes would be implemented a year later, in early 2022.

CBU’s total proposed 2021 budget is about $43.3 million, which is made up of water ($17.7 million), sewer ($22.8 million), and stormwater ($3.1 million). That reflects and overall drop of 7 percent compared to 2020.

Continue reading “Bloomington’s planned case for water rate increase delayed until early 2021”

Water you kidding? A 123-year-old main in downtown Bloomington gets replaced

cropped 2020-05-11 water main IMG_0414
On Monday morning, city of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) workers start the work of digging a trench in the middle of 6th Street, on the north segment of the courthouse square, for a water main replacement project. (Dave Askins/ Square Beacon)

Early Monday morning, city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) workers started work on the 6th Street segment of the downtown courthouse square. The project is to remove a water main from an alley and put a new one in the street to replace the old main’s service.

The 123-year-old pipe that’s being replaced is made of cast iron, public affairs specialist Holly McLauchlin said. That put to rest a speculation by The Square Beacon that the old pipe might be made of hollowed-out logs. Still, some wooden pipes from the Paris Dunning house project several years back had been saved by CBU, McLauchlin said.

The pipe dating from 1897 is the oldest one in the city, McLauchlin said. A press release issued later in the day said over 75 percent the city’s water mains are more than 50 years old. Continue reading “Water you kidding? A 123-year-old main in downtown Bloomington gets replaced”