As communities across the country struggle with the ability and funding to update their water infrastructure, there are times when innovative ideas, partnering with the right firm and thinking outside the box is all it takes to put them ahead of the curve.
The Village of Ludlow in north-central Champaign County, Illinois, with a population of fewer than 400 people faced typical challenges with its water system. The Village puts up with headaches and faces regular water main breaks. They have a nearly 70-year-old elevated tower and supply wells. The Water Treatment Plant has been there for three decades and isn’t cutting edge. The oldest water main was installed in 1947.
But with a little help from Fehr Graham experts and some favorable bids, the Village was able to replace its entire Water Treatment Plant and 90% of its water mains for less than $1 million.
This success story isn’t as unique as it might seem. Part of our jobs at an engineering and environmental firm is to help find the money to move improbable projects forward.
To update the treatment plant and water and sewer pipes throughout the Village was estimated to cost nearly $3 million. Simply put, that was money the Village didn’t have. But a lack of available funding doesn’t stop aging infrastructure from disrupting homes and businesses. Village officials needed options.
We began working with the Village to see where it would take us. We not only analyzed the system – we secured a $10,000 federal grant to pay for it. Our help didn’t stop there.
Fehr Graham applied for a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Special Evaluation Assistance for Rural Communities and Households (SEARCH) grant. That money went to project planning, where an investigation of the Water Treatment Plant and distribution system identified potential improvement options and lists of probable construction costs. We also shared a report of our recommendations following the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development guidelines.
Once the planning report was approved, Fehr Graham landed a USDA Water and Waste Disposal loan for $940,000 and a grant for $1.9 million.
Can you imagine updating nearly an entire community’s water infrastructure and having nearly 70% of costs covered? This allows the Village to make crucial improvements, including protecting and improving its water – one of our most valued resources.
After we prepared final design plans and specifications and obtained permits from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, we were ready to help the Village with bidding. There was more good news. The chosen bid turned out to be nearly $1 million lower than estimated and allowed for Phase II to be grouped with Phase I. That meant more cost savings, of course, but it also allows an additional 40% of water mains to be replaced sooner. The Village will be responsible for about 23% of the total cost. How awesome is that?
Improvements include replacing pressure filters and metering and chemical feed equipment at the water plant. All of the outdated cast iron 6-inch and most of the 4-inch water main will be replaced throughout town.
I understand how making decisions on where money goes can be tough because sources are never unlimited – but tackling the problem of aging water systems to avoid service interruptions or public health emergencies should be essential for all communities.
I’m so proud to have been part of this project that will mean Ludlow can start updating its system and continue to provide safe water to its community.
Matthew Johnson, PE, SE, is one of Fehr Graham’s
eight owners and has decades of experience leading
water and wastewater infrastructure projects. He can be