Indianola’s Million Dollar Mile

By now, most of us are familiar with the issues surrounding America’s infrastructure. Nationwide, the dire effects of decades of substandard building and deferred maintenance are being felt as our crumbling bridges, roads, waterways, and utility infrastructure lag behind the rest of the first world. Nationally, the newly passed infrastructure bill confirms that there’s a lot of work to be done. But passing the law is just the beginning; it will take time before we know exactly how it will benefit Indianola’s aging utility infrastructure. In the meantime, here’s where we are and what we’re doing to manage our aging water system.

The Good News

Water-wise, there’s a lot for Indianola residents to feel positive about. We enjoy some of the highest quality drinking water in the state*, in part thanks to the Jordan aquifer. With shallower reservoirs, lakes, and even rivers being common options for residential water sources in Iowa, Indianola and 200+ other communities and organizations choose the Jordan for its quality and consistent supply. It is the largest aquifer in Iowa, covering most of the state and pumping over 27 billion gallons of water to homes, farms, schools, and businesses each year. Where Indianola taps in, the aquifer is over 2,000 feet deep.

Additionally, Indianola’s water rates are in the bottom 25 percent** among Iowa cities. And water use in our community has stayed flat despite the growth in population because new construction and renovations have typically included significant efficiency improvements. That’s great news for conservation, but it also means that while the number of lines has grown, revenue has not kept up proportionally.

To keep your water supply safe and available, IMU should be conducting repairs and maintenance on two miles per year, but currently there is only funding for three blocks. The City of Indianola, which operates on a separate budget from IMU, has received $2.2 million in one-time federal funds for clean water; IMU will receive a small percentage for critical infrastructure upgrades in 2022.

What It Means For You

The IMU board of trustees and staff are passionate about delivering safe, affordable utility services to the community of Indianola. We are spending efficiently, prioritizing our repairs to serve the most people possible, and always working to find new ways to deliver a high standard of service. We are aware of the seriousness of the situation.

We will continue to prioritize our work, stay flexible, and actively look for ways to improve services while controlling costs. We will stay true to our mission to serve the community of Indianola now, and in the future, and we are ever-grateful for your support and continued trust.

The Hard (Water) Facts

Like every utility across Iowa and across the nation, IMU is constrained by a set of unchangeable facts.

  • The current cost to replace one mile of Indianola’s water main is $1 million, or $100,000 per city block.
  • IMU water revenue has been flat for the last decade despite population growth.
  • Construction inflation has nearly doubled the cost of line repair in the last 10 years, and that trend shows no signs of slowing in the coming decade.
  • IMU’s fixed operating expenses have risen in line with the CPI (Consumer Price Index), about 25 percent over the decade.
  • IMU’s water plant is finally paid for, but it’s over 20 years old and needs repairs and upgrades currently not possible in the budget.
  • Weather events like last summer’s drought are extra hard on buried assets because the drier, looser dirt caused the ground to shift, weakening older pipes and causing some to break.
  • Because of deferred maintenance, 30 of Indianola’s 100 total water main miles are past their service life - that’s 30 percent of the community.
  • IMU’s water treatment facility is over 20 years old and due for upgrades and scheduled maintenance.

Sources
*EWG, 2021 Tap Water Database Update
**Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities 2020 Water Rate Data