McPherson moves forward with South Well Field Project

Chad Frey
The Kansan
The city of McPherson is moving forward with a project to pump water from Harvey County's Sand Hills to McPherson.

In November the city of McPherson chose to move a water project up on the schedule in an attempt to save money — and Dec. 21 the commission approved the final financing for what is called the South Well Field Project. 

And when they did, they made history. 

"This is the biggest bond issue I think the city has ever done ," said David Arteberry with Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, bond counsel for the city. "To sell it at an historically low interest rates is a great confluence of events."

The project will construct water wells, and a pipeline, to pump water from the Sand Hills of Harvey County near Burrton to McPherson. 

The city was able to get an interest rate of about 2.05%  — even lower than what was expected in November. Early estimates showed the BPU would save between $300,000 an $400,000. 

"That is considerably lower than when we started this process," Arteberry said. "This is the lowest interest rate I have ever seen on a bond of this size."

The city saved about $602,000 in interest payments on the bond issuance. 

The City of McPherson approved more than $29 million in bonds Monday morning — a debt that will result in increased water rates as the Board of Public Utilities inches forward with a project to build new water wells and pump that water more than 20 miles to the city.

The bonds will financed over a 30-year period — it includes $27 million for project funds and $2 million for bond reserves.

Construction is set to begin in 2022.

The project

The project, the South Well Field Project, is the drilling of three new wells to serve the city of McPherson in the Sand Hills of Harvey County.

“We have seen a decline in the aquifer,” said Tim Maier, McPherson BPU General Manager. “What we are trying to do is get a water source that is outside of the area. ... We are trying to ensure a long term water supply for our community.”

Currently the city pulls water from the McPherson Intensive Water Groundwater Use Area — an area that can not support the current use of its aquifer. Water levels have dropped about three inches a year since 1980.

The city of McPherson purchased land for new wells in 2012, and was able to get water rights in 2017.

The water will be transported via pipeline to McPherson, where it will be treated before entering the municipal supply. The BPU is budgeting about $14.3 million for the pipeline, and $10.4 million for a 3 million gallon per day treatment plant.

“The water is higher in manganese and iron. It is higher than acceptable levels. We will have to put in a treatment plant for that here in McPherson,” Maier said. “We’ll then mix it with the water supply that we have.”

The wells will be recharged during rain and flooding events on the Little Ark River.

“We have been taking water measurements over the past three to four years,” Maier said. “The aquifer may vary 10 feet over that period of time, but every time we have a significant rain event it just fills back up. We think this is a very sustainable source.”

Rate increase

There will be an impact to the water rate — according to a publication by the BPU last year, the water rate increase could be about 42 percent, though there may need to be two smaller adjustments once the wells are operational. 

According to the BPU, the average increase for a residential water bill will be about $17 per month.

Those estimates have not been updated in the face of interest savings found in the last month.

“This should set McPherson up, from a water supply perspective, for the next 50 to 100 years,” Maier said. “.. This is a significant investment for the community. I understand that. Having a long term water supply is extremely important.