Month by month, city of Missoula addressing water utility’s deferred maintenance

The city of Missoula continues to knock off Missoula Water maintenance projects deferred by the utility’s past owner, including the replacement of water mains and swapping out data modems needed to monitor the system.

On Wednesday, the City Council’s Public Works Committee approved two contracts related to the system, including a $29,000 agreement with the WGM Group to engineer a water-main project on Wyoming Street.

Ross Mollenhaur, the city’s utility project manager, said the project was triggered by the Montana Department of Transportation’s work on Russell Street and other surrounding intersections.

“When MDT goes in there and removes the water main on Dakota (Street) for the Milwaukee Trail, we needed a new water main in Wyoming Street, and that’s what’s driving this project,” Mollenhaur said. “MDT is paying 75 percent of the construction costs, but not the engineering. We still have to foot the bill for engineering.”

The city also approved a separate $32,000 contract to replace the modems associated with the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System, otherwise known as SCADA.

Dennis Bowman, superintendent of Missoula Water, said the system monitors and controls the production and distribution equipment located at more than 80 Missoula Water sites across the city.

“Some of these modems are going on 10 years old,” said Bowman. “In the past, we tried to upgrade the modems every three or four years to keep it on rotation so you don’t have any spikes and have to spend $30,000 to buy all these additional modems.”

Bowman said it’s the utility’s intent to replace the rest of the SCADA system next year, though that will depend on budgeting. As it stands, he said, the budget approved by the City Council during the acquisition of Mountain Water – and the financing approved for Missoula Water – remains on track.

“The whole $6.5 million capital improvement project budget, we’re still within that,” he told the committee.

However, Bowman added, a number of other costs associated with prior owner Mountain Water’s habit of deferring routine maintenance will need to be addressed in the coming years, including the SCADA system.

“When the transition happened, we had booster pumps that were out of service,” he said. “But right at the transition period, we got them fixed. We went ahead and spent the money and got them fixed to make sure it was reliable and the system was able to pump water.”

Several wells also remain off-line, Bowman added, and vehicles once used by Mountain Water but now owned by the city are pushing 240,000 miles.

Four replacement vehicles have been ordered, he said.

“There’s multiple different things that got deferred,” Bowman said. “We could throw a lot of money into it Day One, but we took all the critical stuff and got it fixed. We’re doing it month to month, along with the main replacements and hydrants.”