There has been much controversy, misunderstanding and misstatement associated with the issue of replacing the city of Idaho Falls water tower. I write this as one member of the Idaho Falls City Council. I do not speak for the council as a whole or any other individual member.
Why does the city need to replace the current water tower? Why does the new water tower have to be built before the old tower is removed?
Our water tower provides water pressure for the city’s system every day. This helps to prevent a backflow situation in which clean, treated water is contaminated by non-potable fluids reversing into the system. If there were to be a generalized power failure and the city’s wells had to switch to their generators, there would be a couple of minutes of no pressure from the wells’ pumps, hence possible serious backflow contamination in the more vulnerable areas, if not all, of the city. The stored water in the tower’s tank provides needed water pressure to support the system until the generators are running.
The existing water system is not designed to function without a water tower; therefore, the new tower has to be in place before the old, deteriorating tower is decommissioned. The current tower has a capacity of 500,000 gallons and was built to support a much smaller community than the current city population. The new tower will have a capacity of 1 million gallons. It is one element of infrastructure that allows the city to move confidently into the future. For details on reasons for the replacement of the old tower, please see the following site: bit.ly/3hLrg47.
Why and how did the city choose the anticipated location of the tower?
City staff narrowed the search for a site to three locations that were in close proximity to well 3, the well near the current tower. Over the decades, this well has proven to be a reliable, high production well. (Not all city wells produce as much water.) Well 3 is located at the approximate geographic center of the city and is near a key water line along Broadway Avenue that connects to piping supplying water to people on both sides of the river.
Since the new tower will take up to two years to construct, building on two of the three locations would have negative impacts on several long-established, locally-owned businesses. At a work session on May 18, 2020, the City Council, with no objections, accepted the recommendation that the new tower be built in South Capital Park. On Jan. 28, the council voted unanimously to approve a contract with an engineering consulting company to do a site and design plan for the new tower in South Capital Park. Prior to the meeting, I asked about the protection of the river; Public Works confirmed that the engineering plan would provide for protection of the river bank and river water quality. At a subsequent work session, I requested that this plan be presented to the council when it is completed and before the bidding process begins.
This park had originally been developed with monies coming from the Land and Water Conservation Fund administered by the National Park Service. The Land and Water Conservation Fund recognizes that cities grow and their needs change. If any portion of the park is taken out of the park’s identified use as recreation, that portion must be replaced with the purchase of new land of equal or higher dollar value. The new parcel must be developed within three years into a park that enhances the city’s recreational opportunities. The two-year construction zone will impact approximately seven tenths of an acre in the six-acre park. The Land and Water Conservation Fund conversion process requires that all of the construction zone be replaced.
Here is my position: I do not support going back to the rejected locations. The businesses involved made legitimate points regarding potential threats to their livelihoods, and a city must be concerned with its business environment. At the same time, parks are important to the community and to me. I will not support the actual construction of the tower in South Capital Park until the Land and Water Conservation Fund conversion process is in place, securing the land, the plans and the funds for a replacement park that will serve and enhance the community.
The old tower has to be replaced. There is probably no perfect place to put the new tower because of the requirements for its location and size. Yet we, as a community, have the opportunity to secure for the future a protected water system and, at the same time, to add to the city’s green and recreation space with new park land.