Missoula Public Works: Replacing aging infrastructure saved 930K gallons of water

Dennis Bowman, deputy public works director, updated the Missoula City Council Monday night on progress made in replacing the water system’s aging infrastructure. (Renata Birkenbuel/Missoula Current)

The city of Missoula saved more than 930,000 gallons of water per day in 2019 by replacing leaking pipes and making other system upgrades, as promised during the Mountain Water acquisition, according to a report by Missoula Water.

The city acquired its public drinking water system in 2017 after a lengthy court battle that exceeded original cost estimates.

“That’s a savings of over 930,000 gallons a day on the Northside – almost a million gallons of water a day,” said Dennis Bowman, city deputy public works director.

He said the savings came as a result of pipe replacements, which are ongoing, with several planned for next year.

Mayor John Engen welcomed the news that water leakage on the Northside is down from 61 percent to 41 percent.

“Some of you will remember – this was a challenging effort on the part of the city to acquire that system from investors from elsewhere,” said Engen. “We, it turns out, are doing the things that we said we could and should do by virtue of public ownership.”

The Missoula City Council on Monday night discussed capital improvements and reducing system leakage, or water deemed “unaccounted for.” It played a central theme during the city’s acquisition of the system.

So far this year, city maintenance workers have replaced 14,769 linear feet of leaking water main – including 8,500 free of Kalmein pipe as old as 105 years.

Bowman said not having to add more wells helps with future growth.

The primarily Northside projects on the docket for 2020 include replacing 2,440 feet of pipe at Worden and Howell streets; 1,760 feet of pipe at E. Pine and Spruce; 860 feet at W. Pine Street; and 400 feet of dated cast-iron pipe at the Riverfront Triangle, where a new main will also be installed ahead of anticipated development.

The city set aside funding for such capital improvements when it financed the water system. To date, the city has held true to its pledge not to raise rates for Missoula Water.

“It will cut down on expenses,” said Bowman of the pipe replacements. “We can’t control the rates on the power bills. Northwestern Energy and Public Service Commission can set the rates and raise it up. But what we can do is keep replacing our mains to reduce our leakage.”

Bowman said businesses have been patient whenever maintenance tears up the streets to upgrade water mains.

Council members seemed to appreciate public works’ work so far.

“Almost a million gallon of water savings a day is extraordinary,” said council president Bryan von Lossberg.

“An Olympic-sized pool (contains) 660,000 gallons. So an Olympic-sized pool is not being wasted every 17 hours and that is incredible,” said council member Jordan Hess.

Contact Business Reporter Renata Birkenbuel at 406-565-0013 and renatab@missoulacurrent.com.