BUCHANAN – Buchanan Mayor Tom Middlecamp may have the end of the town’s water woes in sight. The operative word being “may.”

Middlecamp and former Mayor Rex Kelly have been adamant over the years that the town has to upgrade its water distribution system or there would be trouble—serious trouble that could cost town water customers millions, or worse, the loss of service during an emergency.

A study done over a year ago confirmed their worries. The town was losing close to two-thirds of its water to leaks and inaccurate water meters. The two men didn’t need to be told that. It just confirmed what they’ve thought for several years because they’ve spent countless nights and weekends helping the town maintenance crews fix old, broken water lines.

But revenue from water customers was never enough to pay for an upgrade, so the idea of making a major overhaul kept getting pushed back.

The time for that overhaul may be nigh, though, thanks in part to the town being ready and the opportunity for a sizeable grant at hand.

Buchanan Town Council agreed unanimously last week to move forward with a chance to get $7.1 million in grants and low interest loans so the town can upgrade almost the entire water distribution system at one time.

Council agreed unanimously to ask Engineering Concepts Inc. (ECI), the town’s engineering firm, to put together the necessary documents to apply for a $5.3 million grant and a nearly $1.8 million loan from Rural Development for the proposed project.

In the process, council agreed that, if the grant and loan are awarded, the town will raise its water rates to cover the payback on the loan. If the town does not get the award, it will not have to raise rates.

For Middlecamp, the chance to get over $5 million in grant funding seemed too good to pass up. The town is already in the process of building a new filtration plant because of surface water contamination in one of the town wells. That came about as a surprise to town officials a year ago, but the condition of the distribution system has been an on-going challenge.

In the preliminary study, ECI recommended the town take a phased approach the several million dollars needed to fix the water distribution system problems. That preliminary study estimated the town is losing 62 percent of its water.

In December, council agreed to a $69,150 contract with ECI to map and collect water flow data for the town system in an effort to identify the most severe leaks the town has, and to prioritize what parts of the system should be fixed first in what was expected to be a phased approach to the upgrade.

Hal Bailey with ECI told council this preliminary work will be necessary for the town to apply for state and federal grant and loan money the town hopes to get to help pay for the upgrades.

Bailey said his firm is about 30 days away from having that flow testing, mapping and modeling complete.

“We know some of the 50-plus-year-old system needs to be replaced,” he said. His firm’s current fieldwork will determine what else needs to be replaced.

Bailey said the town has several sections of its water system that have inadequate line size, but like many small towns, the only documentation for the water system comes from town crews doing water line repairs because the system is so old.

Verifying the lines sizes that serve domestic sections of town and checking fire flow throughout are part of the process.

“It’s one thing to have fire hydrants,” Bailey said. “It’s another thing to have enough flow to the fire hydrants.”

Indications are the town will qualify for 75 percent grant funding from Rural Development for the water distribution system upgrades and a very low interest, long-term loan to cover the rest of the cost.

The town is in the application process right now, Bailey said.

He said Rural Development, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has indicated Buchanan is a priority project in this region.

Still, it may be as late as the end of September before the town knows whether it will get an offer of funding from Rural Development.

Middlecamp said the town’s wells produce plenty of water, and the new filtration plant that’s currently under construction will mean the town supply will be above reproach. Getting the distribution system upgraded will alleviate the constant challenges with many old and too-small lines.