Some smart planning -- and thinking ahead -- is underway by the Morehead Utility Plant Board.

Last week we documented how the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority Board has approved two loans totaling $8,907,000 to the Morehead Utility Plant Board to improve water infrastructure.

Now, for the record, we don't like debt. No one does. No one likes higher utility bills either. The plan for improving infrastructure hits customers’ wallets. Customers over time are going to have to pay back that debt. And, in the past, water/sewer rate increases have certainly been a subject of concern. Rightly so. Last summer water rates increased by $2.45 for the first 2,000 gallons ($17.40 minimum bill) and a steeper sewer rate increase took place with the minimum being $14.60 for the first 2,000 gallons with $7.58 per 1,000 gallons over.

But one only needs to look around regarding the state of water infrastructure across the Commonwealth, and the United States, to recognize that, when it comes to water, you have to spend money to maintain a critical service like this. Having a state of the art water treatment plant and reliable, clean water in America is not cheap for cities and rural water districts. 

It is a necessary, very important, albeit painful expense.

Regarding the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority Board, the first loan is at $5,257,000. The Morehead News reporter Brad Stacy tells us in his story it will be the first increment of a multi-phased Fund F loan for a regional water treatment plant project. A previously approved KIA loan for the planning and design phase of this project will be rolled into this increment of the loan for a total of $6,554,200.

“When all is said and done, the City of Morehead will have a new water treatment plant that will have increased capacity and make use of new technologies,” said Department for Local Government Commissioner Sandra Dunahoo.

Phase one of the project will be completed in 2019 and will include a new raw water intake and raw water transmission line. Phase two is expected to last from 2020-2022 and include the construction of the new water treatment plant. The final phase of the project is expected to last from 2022-2023 and include the construction of a new ground storage tank and a finished water line.

“More than 5,500 customers rely on the city’s current water treatment system, which underwent its last major expansion in 2002,” KIA Executive Director Donna McNeil said. “I commend Morehead officials for being proactive and anticipating the future needs of the community. These improvements will help make the system more sustainable for customers in the long run.”

The second loan of $3,650,000 allows the city to make improvements to the sanitary sewer collection system in order to address capacity issues and sanitary system overflows near US 60 West and KY 801.

Don’t think it is important to invest in water infrastructure ahead of time? Call Martin County where reliable water is a pipe dream to many. Or call Ashland, where the city has repeatedly struggled with water outages over the last two summers because of aging water lines. Part of the problem was putting off necessary upgrades. The city is now planning out a long-term solution to getting the problem fixed. One other important note here - the City of Ashland recently upgraded its water infrastructure and has still had problems with its new filtration system despite spending significant amounts of money on it. So, caution is needed when it comes to making sure these types of improvements are done correctly the first time. 

In the big picture the Morehead Utility Plant Board is wise to get ahead of this even if doing so is painful for the community.