GENESEE COUNTY — When construction began on the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) pipeline in June 2013, no one could have foreseen that before its completion the area it serves would be the site of one of the worst public health crises in history.
Now that KWA is just weeks away from its expected completion, Genesee County drain commissioner Jeff Wright, chief executive officer of the KWA, gave an update of a well-managed project that will be a boon to the community for years to come.
“It’s almost 95 percent complete, and that’s over 80 miles of large diameter pipeline – some of it is 66 inches in diameter,” Wright told the Burton View. “Eighty miles total, two major pumping stations which are 100 percent complete, and the intake that goes out under Lake Huron is a mile and a half under the lake and that is 100 percent complete.”
Wright said the Genesee County portion of the project is 100 percent complete, with remaining work taking place in Lapeer and Sanilac counties.
“The thing we’re proudest of with this project is that our original estimate was $300 million, and with 95 percent completion it looks like we’re going to come in at $285 million,” Wright said. “When’s the last time you saw a government project that actually came in at or under budget? I give credit to the men and women of this operation and the men and women of the contractors and engineers that constructed it. They did a great, great job for their community.”
The timeliness of the project’s completion was matched by the timeliness of its onset, which Wright said helped contribute to the cost savings for taxpayer.
“I think the reason we got such good rates is we came in and we had a bit of a recession that started in 2008 and ran into the time-frame where we actually started bidding this project,” Wright said. “The contractors were hungry (for work) – we got great prices, and we got great contractors by the way, many local contractors, which put a lot of local people to work. When we peaked out we had almost 1,400 people working on this project.
“The rainy weather the past couple weeks have set us back a little bit, but we’re confident that we’ll have it done in June or July. Unless we have continuous rain for the next four or five weeks, that might slow us down a little bit, but 36 months is what we estimated three years ago and June is 26 months. Even if it goes a month longer that’s still a pretty good estimate.”
Wright reported that an additional county project is also on schedule.
“On top of that, separate from KWA, the county is also building a water treatment plant that is also on schedule and on budget,” he said. “That will not be completed until June of next year. The idea was to get this pipeline completed so Flint could get on the water as quickly as possible … so we’ve been pushing the pipeline a little bit.”
The KWA runs directly from Lake Huron to Genesee County, bringing with it fresh water and ending Flint’s long-running reliance on the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Because Flint is the city farthest from the beginning of the water system, it pays the highest prices.
“That’s referred to as the distance and elevation formula that Detroit has always used, and that’s what has given Flint and Genesee County – literally, we are paying close to 12 percent of the total budget of the Detroit Water Department, and we represent less than two percent of the people served,” Wright said. “That’s because of the distance and elevation formula, and that goes away when KWA comes online.”
Wright said that once online, KWA will reduce the city’s water costs, but he couldn’t say whether residents would receive water at a reduced rate.
“KWA is going to reduce Flint’s costs, but will they pass that savings on to the people? That’s the question mark,” he said. “I’m sure they could find many things to use it for, such as rebuilding their water system. … Hopefully they do (cut water rates for customers), but I just want to reiterate that I don’t have any jurisdiction other than my opinion on what they should do with those savings. I would hope that they would pass on as much as possible.”