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Work begins on Larned water distribution project
Nusser: Goal is to have new water lines last another 100 years
Water distribution workers
Crews begin work on underground water distribution lines near the intersection of 5th and Kansas streets in Larned. Work began on the first phase of the project last week. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

LARNED - A project in the works for nearly five years kicked off last week in Larned as crews began work on replacing underground water distribution lines, some of which are well over a century old.

Crews from Woodward, Okla., based Cobalt Construction began exploratory work along Kansas Street on the first three phases of what will eventually be a ten-phase project to improve city’s aging underground water distribution lines, some of which date back as far as the 1880s.

Over about the next six months, crews will tackle water lines THAT cover portions of Larned between 6th and 13th streets north to south, and Kansas to Fry streets east to west. The goal is to have the first three phases of the project done by December, though Larned City Manager Bradley Eilts said that timeline could change weather-permitting.

The existing cast-iron lines, many of which were packed with sand, will be replaced with C900 PVC pressure-rated cast-iron equivalent water pipes at a size identical to the pipe it is replacing. The exception will be lines along Santa Fe and Kansas streets, which are being upgraded to six-inch lines from their current four-inch diameter.

According to Larned Mayor William Nusser, the upgrades will allow customers to receive a higher volume of water at consistent pressure than with the existing lines.

To help defray some of the cost of the project, once the pipes are installed, city crews will aid in the back-filling and compacting of the sand, as well. Once that is done, city street crews will also be doing the work to repave streets, with materials Eilts said would match or improve on current paving.

Part of a master plan

The project, Eilts said, is part of the Larned City Council’s stated priorities to improve Larned’s infrastructure not simply for the short-term, but to strengthen the community for future generations.

As part of that goal, a little more than four years ago the city brought in Manhattan-based engineering firm Schwab-Eaton to do an inventory of the lines. The goal was to put together a master plan, with the goal being to eventually replace water distribution lines throughout the city.

In the exploration phase, the full project was slated to cost $4.5 million; however, a bond consultant advised the city that to do the entire project at one time would require taking on new debt, something Larned Mayor William Nusser and the city council did not want to do.

So the city decided to break up the project into 10 phases, each costing roughly $400,000, prioritizing the oldest and most deteriorated lines first. In doing this, the goal, Nusser said, was to be able to complete the project without taking on additional debt through grants and within the framework of the city’s existing cash flow.

Once this plan was put together, in 2019, the city applied for Community Development Block Grant funds from the federal government for about $596,000, with the city contributing equal matching funds. The grant application was approved early last year.

The city’s portion of the funding will come from a restructuring of the city’s water billing rate, a change necessitated by requirements to meet the 50-50 split conditions of the grant’s approval.

To meet grant requirements, Larned’s water rates had to meet a charge of $35 per 5,000 gallons of usage, however stipulations allowed for flexibility in how the city arrived at that charge. 

Previously, the city charged a base rate of $18.24 for the first 3,000 gallons of usage, plus an additional rate for each subsequent 1,000 gallons of usage.

In June 2019, the city approved an adjustment to a base rate of $14.30, a fee of $3.94 for the first 1,000 gallons, and a fee of $34 for 5,000 gallons. At the time the council approved the change, it was estimated it would provide an annual revenue of $1,102,600.

Eilts noted, though, that for customers who use less than 3,000 gallons a month, the change would likely result in a savings rather than an increase. Most small households, he said, use 1,000 gallons or less per month.

Nusser estimated with grant funds combined with the city’s matching funds, crews should be able to complete roughly a quarter of the overall work, or roughly the first three phases of the ten-phase project.

“To really do things right takes time,” Nusser said. “For construction to start now, it’s been four or five years worth of work.”

Though the full scope of the project is costly and will take a long time to complete, Nusser said the city wanted to invest in a long-term repair that will last, in his estimation, another century-plus, instead of just doing a cheap short-term fix that would have to be repaired again in a couple of years.

“Every decision we make has a long-term impact,” Nusser said. “It’s exciting to think that we’re doing something for not just this generation, but the next.”

Distribution project map
The map shows the master plan of underground water distribution lines scheduled to be replaced as part of the city’s ongoing water distribution project. Many of the lines to be replaced in the early phases of the project were installed in the late 1800s. - COURTESY OF THE CITY OF LARNED