After years of studies, Westlake is moving forward with plans to switch water suppliers to Avon Lake Municipal Utilities.
The city currently receives service from the Cleveland Division of Water.
Westlake's City Council's Committee of the Whole voted unanimously on Nov. 15 to allow its mayor, Dennis Clough, to begin negotiations with Avon Lake, and to hire a consulting firm to create a plan for design and construction.
Consultants at the firm HTNB began the first feasibility study for the switch back in 2007, and on Tuesday night, council members saw and discussed the results of a second study analyzing risks, benefits, costs and construction involved.
The study recommends that Westlake pursue the change in suppliers, noting that it would improve water pressure, create a new revenue stream for Westlake, provide lower rates to residents, and give the city control over infrastructure repairs and customer service.
"We've noted instances of bad service, bad response, billing problems, broken hydrants [from Cleveland Water Distribution]," said Ken Brady, Westlake's Ward 5 councilman after the presentation, adding that he thinks the switch would be a win-win for Westlake. "I think we can do a better job than that. I think it would be hard to do a worse one."
Clough asked the committee to move forward with preparations for the switch.
"This plan would generate enough funds for repairs and lower rates for Westlake residents," he said. "Right now, if we want to continue an aggressive replacement of water lines, it's going to have to come out of the general fund."
In order to change suppliers, Westlake would have to disconnect existing water mains from the Cleveland Division of Water and construct a pipe to connect to Avon Lake's system. According to HNTB, a 30-inch main from the corporation limit under Schwartz Road would be the shortest and least expensive way to connect, but would leave the city with a single water source.
Director of Engineering Bob Kelly said the single pipe could be split into two parallel pipes, but that would still leave the city with a single water source. Kelly said the city would prefer to have two separate connection points with Avon Lake, but the cost would be prohibitive.
HNTB’s plan suggests constructing a 1 million gallon ground-level tank, which would provide about four hours of water, for emergencies. The tank would hold twice as much water as the tower at Bassett Road, which is owned by Cleveland Water Distribution.
"I think we might want two tanks for eight hours of water just in case," Clough noted.
HNTB's study estimates that the entire project would cost $17.7 million to complete, including a 25 percent rainy day fund, the $1 million water tank, fittings, valves, lines and more. The actual construction costs for the pipes are set at about $4.8 million.
"A very small amount of line has to come in," Kelly said. "It's a pretty short run on Schwartz— a little over a mile."
About 50 percent of the Westlake's pipes are in excellent condition right now, 25 percent are good and 25 percent are fair, according to Clough. And in order to replace all water mains more than 50 years old, Westlake would need about $33 million, according to Kelly.
"Cleveland just doesn't have enough to fix it all," he said.
Preliminary projections show that Westlake would be bringing in $1.6 million by 2016 if the switch is made, which would allow the city to make its own repairs and maintain ownership of the pipes. Under Westlake's agreement with Cleveland Water Distribution, any pipes repaired with CWD money come under their ownership.
Water rates from Cleveland will be $20.47 for the first thousand cubic feet of water and $41.70 for each additional mcf next year. Avon Lake Municipal Utilities customers in Westlake would be charged a flat fee of $33 per mcf in 2012, but the system would not be in place by then.
Avon Lake Municipal Utilities currently servesmore than 180,000 people in a 600-square-mile, five-county area.