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Orion's water tower helps keep rates lower



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June 19, 2013 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff Writer

It holds about 2.5 million gallons of water and is the largest water tower in Michigan.

The Orion Water Tower has helped to minimize the expense that the Detroit Water Sewer Department imposes on its customers in southeast Michigan.

The Detroit system can no longer charge as much for Orion Township water use because the tower is filled at night.

This means around a $30 annual savings for residents, if you are not filling a pool, or pampering fresh sod. Or $18,000 in annual savings for Orion's biggest customer, the GM Orion Plant.

It's all in the tank

Four factors determine DWSD water rates: the distance from their station; the elevation of the Orion community; the maximum day average (how much total is used in one day); and the peak hour demand.

The township cannot control the first three factors, but due owning the largest water tower in all of Michigan, they have a say about the fourth.

"When people are sleeping we are filling our tower," Supervisor Chris Barnett said.

Instead of pumping water from Detroit during Lake Orion's peak hour of operation—in the morning, like most communities—residents are drawing from the water tower.

"That's how we are able to get such better rates," he said. "We are getting peak hour demand under control."

How many gallons is that?

Peak hour demand is calculated from the hour of largest water consumption during the day with the largest water consumption. So that is the peak hour of the peak day.

Last year the township was charged at a rate of using 12.2 million gallons per day during the peak hour of demand, or using 508,000 gallons per peak hour.

After a year of the township assessing and tweaking, and filling at night, the peak hour demand rate dropped by 4.25 percent to 9.2 million gallons per day.

Customers paid $26.80 per thousand cubic feet last year and will be $1.14 richer this year, per thousand cubic feet.

"It's actually more than that, because across the board Detroit raised their rates. So not only did we not raise our rates, but we reduced our rates," Barnett said.

The new rates were adopted at the last Township Board Meeting June 3.

More than money

For 2014, Jim Stevens, Engineering Consultant for the township, anticipates a rate of "8.5 million gallons per day for the peak hour, which is the same for the maximum day rate."

In other words, the Orion Township's peak hour is thinning and dissolving into the day.

With the ability to temporarily store water in the tower, the peak hour rates will continue to drop as filling becomes more precise, eventually being a steady, lower rate.

The township saved about $750,000 this year using the water tower, and Stevens predicts close to one million dollars for next year.

At this rate, he said, the water tower—costing $5.2 million— will be paid off in five to seven years.

"It is the envy of other communities," Barnett said.

Auburn Hills customers are paying $41.50 per thousand cubic feet, and Rochester Hills DWSD customers pay $48.

"When I put sod in my yard, my quarterly bill was like $500 and it's amazing to realize that in other communities $500 could be $1000," Barnett said. "So that's the neat thing. Not only are we significantly lower than our neighbors, but we're actually going in an opposite direction."

Future Showers

Sometime during this spring, Orion Township water supply was cut off from the Detroit Water Sewer Department for repairs but nobody noticed.

"Your customers didn't even feel it because you have the water tower," Stevens said. The water tower has helped increase water pressure during showers, a survey noted. The pressure is regulated better with the consistent nighttime fillings, the key to reducing water bills from Detroit.

"Instead of having the big ups and downs, it's more consistent," Stevens said.

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