There has been a wealth of complaining during the past two or three years about the color, smell, and taste of our water. People have shown up at city council meetings to share samples and photographs of what comes out of their tap. Council members, city employees, and the mayor have made attempts at explaining just why parts of our community are saddled with water that is not fit for flushing, much less consuming.
I thought I might take a stab at sharing my own explanation about Peabody water. I have not missed too many Peabody City Council meetings in the past 13 years so I have heard most of the issues involved in our seemingly insurmountable water problems.
To begin with, our water system was installed about 100 years ago. Water pipes then were made of cast iron — state-of-the-art equipment at that time. Not much has been added to it or changed since that installation. Repairs have been made from time to time, but many were likely done decades ago, so they may not be much of an improvement.
Peabody’s first water source was well water. When we moved here in 1970, I learned how tough it was on plumbing and appliances. The water was hard, and lime deposits crusted over the working mechanisms of everything from faucet handles to washing machines. Everyone complained. After we bought the house where I live now, we installed a water softener. The man who serviced it said that his company recommended using a water softener when the water measured around 10 grains hard. Peabody’s water topped out at 40-plus grains hard.
Eventually the state told us we had to find a new water source. They even told us we had to go to Hillsboro to get it. They lent us part of the money for a new water tower and a water line from Hillsboro to Peabody. Hillsboro would pump water from Marion Reservoir to its water plant, treat it, and send some to each community. That is correct: Hillsboro water is the same as Peabody water.
However, after our water gets to the Peabody tower, it goes into our water distribution system – the same water lines that were installed 100 years ago, and guess what happens? Yup, all the rust and built-up lime deposits from 100 years of hard water flowing through the pipes falls into the water that goes into your tap.
Most residents want it fixed. Who can blame them? The way to fix the problem is to replace the water lines. They need to be replaced from the north end of town to the south and from west to east. If city councils back in the 1940s or 1950s had been far-sighted enough to start such a project, we would not have the problems we have now. However, Peabody was on well water then. None of those councilmen thought better water would ever be available, much less forced on us at the end of the century.
To stretch their annual budgets, they ignored the issue.
Water quality is now a big issue for this community. Some of us are lucky enough to have very few problems with taste, odor, or smell. Others are not so lucky. They have to put up with an exceedingly unpleasant product from their part of the water distribution system. Many are unhappy that the city seems to waste so much water by flushing it through water hydrants when complaints come in about water in certain neighborhoods. Some people even think the city council has a monopoly on good water. “I wonder how the mayor and council would like to drink this?” they grumble.
The solution to replacing lines that should have been gradually replaced 50 or 60 years ago is simply to begin. The longer we put it off, the more expensive it is going to be. There are a couple of ways to handle this, but Peabody residents are going to have to open their wallets to get it done. It costs about $15,000 to replace one block of water lines. Some are less; some are more. A one-mill increase this year in Peabody will bring in a bit more than $4,000, so a four-mill increase to everyone’s taxes will raise about $16,000 – enough to replace a water line in one block. Total replacement will be a long time coming, won’t it?
If accepted, the 2015 budget that was presented Monday evening will see a three-mill increase, raising about $12,000. This money is not designated for water line replacement although it could be spent for that. This budget will be the first in five years to include an increase in the mill levy. During those years council members made a serious effort to hold the line on property taxes to give Peabody residents some tax relief.
So how badly do you want clear, odor-free, good tasting water? You need to let your council members know how you feel about raising the mill levy. Perhaps a local sales tax increase would help. There also are “special assessment” options that require property owners to share the cost of replacement in their block or neighborhood. Which appeals to you?
If the answer is none, then it is time to quit complaining about water quality or the flushing process that pulls fresh water into the lines, but also pours hundreds of gallons down the gutter.
You cannot have it both ways. We either pay for it or we live with it.
— SUSAN MARSHALL