Falls City water bills to go up by $1.75 monthly

FALLS CITY — Water bills in Falls City will increase by $1.75 to pay for maintenance on backflow devices installed to prevent contamination in the water system.

Mayor Terry Ungricht wrote in a memo to the Falls City City Council that at the time they were installed, the council believed they would be required by law.

They were installed on each hookup in the city, but as it turns out, regulations didn’t require them. Ungricht said now that they are installed, the city has an obligation to test them yearly.

In 2013, the city approved a contract to have them tested. Under the contract, testing was paid for, not replacement if the devices failed. That is the responsibility of the customer. To pay for the contract, the city added a $2.25 per account charge.

With the inspection fees expiring in June 2018, the city decided to look at different ways to handle the backflow device issue. Three options were presented to the city’s Public Work Committee.

The first was to pull the devices when they failed.

“The purpose of the backflow device is to prevent contamination to the system, but also protects when there is a water loss in the system,” Ungricht noted in the memo. “If the line that services the pressure to your house fails, it would drain the water out of your pipes and have a big chance of burning out your water heater.”

The committee decided that wasn’t an acceptable option.

The second option was to add another maintenance fee for the devices.

The third is to have the city take ownership of the backflow devices, drop the $2.25 fee for the testing contract, but add $4 to the base rate to cover the cost of testing and replacing units that fail.

The committee recommended the third option, and the city council approved the change at its Oct. 12 meeting.

According to the city’s testing contractor, about 20 devices may need to be replaced. Ungricht said that would cost customers about $250 for the device, plus the cost of having a plumber install it.

“This could create a real hardship for some of our utility customers,” Ungricht said.

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