Mayor Pat Raffety released this letter to the residents of Milbank. Raffety addressed the questions people have been asking the members of the city council;
City of Milbank Water System
The Milbank City Council has recently had several meetings to discuss the City water supply and rate structure. As a result, both the Council and I feel there is a need to convey the information we receive to the residents who are impacted by our decisions. Both the Council and myself appreciate the opportunity to discuss these topics, and part of that is giving our residents the knowledge to have meaningful conversations.
Water rates. The City has not had a usage rate increase since 1993 or a base rate increase since 2008. We have reached the level of revenue from our rates is no longer covering the operating and maintenance expense. We have tried to keep the rates low as a benefit to residents, which we have succeeded in doing, however now is the time to address rates to be able to maintain the quality and service you have come to expect.
Our current water supply and our water rights (ability to attain more water) are both in a good place and will sustain the community for the foreseeable future. The City currently gets it’s water from 3 wells and 2 springs in the Twin Brooks area. We have water, the line capacity to get the water to town, and adequate storage capacity. What we do not have are adequate pumps to push the water to our storage on the west side of town, or the pump capacity to refill our water tower located by the school at the needed rate.
What is needed: higher capacity pumps to move the water from the wells/springs to town, an expansion of the water treatment facility to handle the increased flow, higher capacity pumps to move the water from the west side storage to the water tower, and upgraded controls to manage all three of those issues so they work better in unison. This will allow us to keep the water tower full at all times and avoid water restrictions. Right now, due to the lack of upgraded pumps and controls the system struggles to keep up. During times of high use, when people are watering lawns or gardens, the current system requires a large amount of hands-on monitoring to keep the desired levels.
The Valley Queen expansion is a topic that comes up during usage discussions. Officials from Valley Queen were in contact with both myself and City Administrator Forman early on during their planning of the new facility. The primary question was “can the City provide the projected water needs we will have?”. The answer was and is yes, the City has the water and the transmission line capacity to move the water, it is our ability to move the volume of water that needed to be addressed. Valley Queen is the City’s largest water client, both in terms of volume used and amount of revenue generated. That increase request was a motivating factor in our system wide review for future needs.
Are the improvements driven solely by Valley Queen’s expansion plans? No, they are not. Milbank is growing, for the first time in over 40 years Milbank has seen a population gain. From 1980 until 2010 the City had seen a population decrease of 10% every census until 2020, when we saw a 5% increase. The increased housing demand for new residents, four new proposed developments that could see over one hundred new homes in the next 5-10 years, and the desire to eliminate high use time water restrictions all factor into the decision-making process. As a general rule in planning it is best to look at the impact to the system now, in 5 years, 10 years, then up to 25 years to insure we have laid out the groundwork for any needed future expansions. That is the work the Council is involved in right now.
Both the Council, City staff, and myself are focused on providing high quality water, maintaining our current water system, planning for continued growth of Milbank, and keeping our rates as affordable as possible. Milbank is a wonderful community, and we recognize the fact that any added expense is a hardship to our residents and businesses. It is our hope to communicate that intent clearly and effectively, so we are all able to work together and keep Milbank the beautiful community it is, a great place to live, raise your family, and work to provide for them.