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McGregor to foot part of the bill for new water system

A small town is facing a big bill.
Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 9:55 PM CST
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MCGREGOR, Iowa (KCRG) - Like many small Iowa towns, McGregor is facing issues with its aging water system.

But the issue for this town of less than 750 people is a big one. Under DNR orders, McGregor’s entire water and sewage system must be replaced. This is projected to cost the town nearly $11.5 million.

The historic downtown suffers when water levels rise, which is something the nonprofit art gallery Left Bank knows this all too well. President Anne Kruse said at one point its basement filled with three feet of sewage.

“If there’s a backup that’s going to happen our building is one of the first to get impacted, and so on times when you have high rain or just an overwhelming amount to the system it will back up into our basement and it becomes a health issue,” Kruse said.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has put forth about $4 million for the project. The water system is mostly under Main Street, which is Business Highway 76. McGregor also received a $500,000 grant from the Wastewater and Drinking Water Treatment Financial Assistance Program, which was part of the first legislation signed into law by Governor Reynolds in 2018.

That leaves nearly $7 million to be paid for by McGregor’s citizens. The plan so far is to raise citizens’ utility rates.

The city was one of 16 small communities who received grant money. One of the criteria was that the area must be considered disadvantaged, which, according to the grant guidelines, means at least 51% of the population makes low-to-moderate income.

The average annual income in McGregor is just 70% that of the rest of Iowa’s average, which means people like Carolyn Scott will feel the pinch.

“We’re on a fixed income because we’re retired but I just think it’s part of it,” Scott said. “If I want good utilities, I want a good sewer system, we have to do it.”

Mayor Lyle Troester says this would have happened eventually because the pipes are over a century old.

“In our case it was too far gone to be able to just patch it here and there so we need to do the entire system,” Troester said.

Legal documents TV-9 obtained show the DNR received an anonymous complaint in 2018 that a lift station, which helps bring water uphill, was dumping raw sewage directly into the Mississippi River. Upon investigation, the DNR found that another lift station was dumping sewage as well. McGregor received a violation later in 2018 for failing to correctly report that they had to resort to dumping untreated sewage into the river due to excessive rainfall overwhelming their waste management system.

After looking into the issue, the DNR agreed that the dumping was unavoidable. It was still a violation of Iowa Code, however, and the DNR and McGregor officials came to a consent agreement that said their entire system must be replaced as a result.

Davy Engineering out of La Crosse, Wisconsin has been selected as the company that will undertake the project. Bids were finalized in late January, and construction for the first half of the endeavor is set to begin in May.

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