Leader Blues

Friday, July 25, 2008

TOP STORY > >Austin must act on water source

Leader staff writer

Members of Austin City Council will have two water-purchase agreements to consider when they meet Monday, one from Cabot and one from North Pulaski Water Association, which has merged with Highway 319 Water Association.

Bill Cypert, secretary and spokesman for Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, told the full commission Thursday that the six-month, renewable agreement he delivered to Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain on Monday had to be signed by Aug. 29.

He said he told Chamberlain that if the city chooses another provider, emergency water, if it is ever needed, could be at a higher rate than the $3.70 per thousand gallons Austin currently pays.

“The ball is in their court,” Cypert said.

Austin has no wells and buys all of its water, about half from Cabot. Cabot supplies the down town area while North Pulaski covers the area west of the freeway. The summer average is 50,000 gallons a day from Cabot and 45,000 gallons a day from North Pulaski.

Although the two parts of the Austin water system are connected by a six-inch pipe under the freeway, that pipe is too small to allow either supplier to be the sole water provider to the city at this time.

However, the city is upgrading the system now and one improvement will be an eight-inch pipe under the freeway that will allow the city to buy from a single source.

Chamberlain said it is not possible to give up either Cabot or North Pulaski at this point, so the council will likely agree to the terms of Cabot’s purchase agreement, especially since it is for a six-month period.

The purchase agreement North Pulaski has asked the city to sign is for 20 years, but there is no pressure to sign it, she said.

“We’ll probably continue to buy from both. That’s what I told Bill,” Chamberlain said.

Currently, North Pulaski charges Austin $4.05 per thousand gallons because that is how much Austin was paying Highway 319 Water Association when it merged with North Pulaski.

Chamberlain said Austin doesn’t have a contract with North Pulaski and never did.

Austin’s contract was with Highway 319 Water Association, which bought its water from Cabot for $3.70 per thousand and marked it up 35 cents.

Austin did have a contract with Cabot, but it ended when Stubby Stumbaugh was mayor during the transition period when Cabot’s water and wastewater departments were being taken over by the commission.

Chamberlain said she had considered buying all the water Austin needs from Cabot because North Pulaski had difficulty supplying Austin last summer.

But improvements in the North Pulaski system has remedied that problem and now North Pulaski is prepared to sell Austin all the water it needs for almost one dollar less per thousand gallons than Cabot sells it.

Cabot’s rate for wholesale customers was set by council ordinance in 2004 before the commission took over water and wastewater and the commission has no authority to change it.

However, the council does entertain proposals submitted by the commission and has passed ordinances at its request.