RHINELANDER (WAOW) – The cold, long winter and need to advise homes and businesses to keep water running from a faucet cost Rhinelander more than $500,000, a city leader says. Rhinelander is looking for help to cover that cost.
"We're seeking assistance from FEMA and other agencies at the state and federal level, and we await word back on that," said Tim Kingman, the city's director of public works.
If Rhinelander can't count on that help, taxpayers could get hit.
"There are means to budget this and ultimately that becomes the utility customers' cost, but it's budgeted over a long period of time," Kingman said.
Rhinelander and Merrill joined the list Monday of central Wisconsin communities canceling run-water advisories to keep underground water lines from freezing.
“This is the worst winter we have had on record in Rhinelander,” said Kingman. “We didn't plan for this. We have to see what we can do to minimize the cost to our customers.”
The $500,000 in unplanned expenses includes repairing nearly 14 water main breaks when there normally is maybe six, thawing out frozen water lines for more than 500 customers when the most ever in the past was 100 and supplying and treating the water that flowed from the faucets, he said.
The run-water advisory boosted water use by 1 million gallons a day, or at least 75 percent more than used during a normal winter, he said. The city has about 3,400 water customers.
"It's a mild expense compared to digging up water mains and digging up services, bottling the water," Kingman said.
There are no plans at this point to raise water rates because of the historic winter, but Kingman says that option can't be ruled out.
“We have monies that we have accumulated over time for improvements,” he said. “They may have to be used differently.”
The winter was one crisis after another, Kingman said.
“I was prepared to lift the water advisory last week but we had a 12- to 15-inch snow storm that came through,” he said, laughing.