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No More Boil Orders
Innovative financing makes city's water quality turnaround possible
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The city of Mt. Vernon struggled for years to consistently provide its residents with safe drinking water. The problem was three-fold: The community’s century-old main water intake pipe was crumbling, its water filtration process was unreliable and its metering system proved to be inaccurate. 
The challenges combined to create uncertainty among residents who were often forced to boil drinking water, and reluctance among prospective business owners to invest in the local economy.
The local Johnson Controls team designed a plan to fund a series of water system upgrades using an energy savings performance contract. Under the contract, improvements would be paid for up front by Johnson Controls and guaranteed to generate enough savings to pay for themselves over time. “Without this funding mechanism and the expertise Johnson Controls was able to bring to the table, we would never have been able take these steps forward,” said water superintendent Chuck Gray.

The three-phase began in 2007 and included a series of water plant and distribution system improvements:

  • Phase 1: The first phase of the project featured the installation of an Automated Meter Reading (AMR) system. The project included changing out 3,300 manual water meters for automatic meters, which are expected to save the city $3.7 million in increased billable consumption and operational efficiencies over 15 years.
  • Phase 2: A year later, Johnson Controls updated the city’s water plant delivery systems. This phase resulted in a 77 percent increase in the city’s water clarity and a reduction in electricity use of more than 800,000 kWh per year, saving the city $10 million over 15 years.
  • Phase 3: Focused on updating the Mt. Vernon water treatment plant, phase three increases treatment capacity to 4.4 million gallons and prevents 720,000 gallons of contaminated water per day from being discharged into the Ohio River. This phase is expected to create more than $10 million in savings over the term of the contract. 
Today, Mt. Vernon is a city nationally recognized for its water conservation program and poised for economic growth, according to Gray. “Right now we’ve got a small power plant that’s being built here. We’re going to have a large fertilizer plant that’s going to be built here. And a steel mill is looking to locate here. Things are really picking up for Mount Vernon.” 

Gray credits the turnaround to the city’s partnership with Johnson Controls and an innovative financing method that made it possible to implement much-needed change without increasing taxes or municipal water rates. 

The results have been so impressive, a fourth phase of the project is currently underway, designed to improve the city’s water distribution system. More important than the accolades, however, is that Mt. Vernon’s water system improvement initiatives will have a lasting impact on the community. With safe water and significant cost savings, the city is transforming itself into a place where people want to live and businesses hope to thrive. 
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