More than a century after it was founded, Maize, Kan., did not have a public water supply. That changed this year, when the city completed a $5.4 million water system that delivers potable water throughout the community. As a result of the project, residents have safe drinking water, and Maize is growing for the first time in more than 20 years.
Founded in 1886, Maize encompasses 4 square miles and is home to 1,970 residents. Despite its size, the city boasts a large school system that serves neighboring communities, including northwest Wichita. Each weekday, approximately 6,000 teachers and students attend the city’s two high schools, one middle school and four elementary schools.
Historically, Maize residents and businesses have obtained water from private wells. However, by the 1980s, many of the wells were yielding low-quality water that was unsuitable for drinking. The situation worsened in subsequent years, posing a health risk and hindering the city’s economic growth.
In 1998, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) placed Maize at the top of its list of communities with water-quality problems. Two years passed, by which time half of the city’s wells had nitrates exceeding allowable levels, and most residents were using bottled water for drinking and cooking.
In response, the Maize City Council appointed a committee of neighborhood and local government representatives to examine the feasibility of a public water system. The group worked with Midwest Assistance Program, a non-profit organization based in New Prague, Minn., to consider development and finance options.
After months of study, the group recommended that Maize locate water rights and build a delivery system to serve the entire community. The City Council concurred and soon purchased two parcels of land (totaling 3 acres) where the city could drill new wells. By June 2001, Maize and its contractors began to design and build its new water system.
As a condition of permitting, KDHE required a covenant between the city and the school district. Maize planned to service project debt — $5.3 million from the Kansas State Water Revolving Loan Fund — with revenue generated by user fees. However, if the district were to opt out of the municipal water system, the city would not have enough revenue to repay the 20-year loan. In the end, the school district agreed to convert its existing water rights to irrigation only and connect to the new system.
Construction began in January 2002, taking 13 months to complete. The project team installed a 500,000-gallon water tower, communications and treatment equipment, two wells and well houses, four miles of transmission line, 13.5 miles of distribution line, 122 valves, 102 fire hydrants and 802 service connections. For pipe installation, crews used horizontal directional drilling to avoid interfering with existing utilities and to minimize disruption for residents and businesses.
In addition to spending state loan funds, Maize contributed approximately $100,000 from its capital improvements fund. Additionally, United Methodist Health Ministries, based in Hutchinson, Kan., awarded the city an $11,000 grant to pay for fluoridation.
Within six months of the project’s completion, two businesses had built new facilities in the city, developers had completed a new shopping center (and fully leased it to six tenants), and builders had completed 24 new houses. Construction is currently under way in two new residential subdivisions.
In addition to generating economic growth, the project improved the city’s fire rating, giving homeowners a break on insurance premiums. According to City Administrator Carol Bloodworth, the money saved in premiums helps offset monthly user fees, which average $30 to $35 per household. The city has tripled geographically, she says, noting that property owners in neighboring communities are requesting annexation to take advantage of the new water system.
Agencies/companies involved: George Butler Associates, Lenexa, Kan.; CAS Construction, Topeka, Kan.; Duling Construction, Wichita, Kan.; Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Topeka; Kansas Rural Water Association, Sabetha; Midwest Assistance Program, New Prague, Minn.; United Methodist Health Ministries, Hutchinson, Kan.