Massive sewer project ahead

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Substantial sewer improvements are in the offing for downtown Iola.
The city learned this week that $300,000 in grant money had been made available to Iola through the Environmental Protection Agency. That is in addition to $478,000 earmarked by the EPA for Iola in 2008.
City Administrator Judy Brigham said the city had about $750,000 in reserve to match the federal money.
The extent of the sewer work is not yet known.
“We have hired PEC Engineering, Topeka, to survey our sewer system, with emphasis on the downtown,” she said.
The survey will be done with smoke, which shows failure when it escapes a sewer main, and a camera that will course through the sewer lines.
Brigham noted that downtown sewers have been in place for more than a century and that infiltration of groundwater had become more evident with each heavy rain.
“Every time it rains we get a lot more water in the lagoons,” she said, an absolute indication that the sanitary sewer lines have significant failures.
Brigham said the bulk of the work will be downtown. As soon as the project is outlined, the work will be contracted.
She said replacement of those sewers, generally 14 to 18 feet underground and under narrow alleyways, would be a task too demanding for city crews.
“This will be our first major sewer system overhaul,” Brigham said. “We’ve just never had the money before to do anything downtown.”
She warned residents that while financing to meet the city’s portion of upgrade expenses appeared to be in place, it might not be sufficient once the extent of the project is known. While the lion’s share of what will be done will affect sanitary sewers, some water main projects may be included.
The city’s funding comes through sewer charges, the rates of which are based on water sales, Brigham said.
“Water sales have dropped off quite a bit this year — I guess because of conservation and it being a wet year — and we might have to look at adjusting rates,” Brigham said.