City is off to solid start in quest to redo pipes, streets

Morton Street is the first street to be repaved with new water and sewer pipes in the ground.

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"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

-- Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)

And the 90-year effort to replace all city underground water and sewer lines, as well as repave all city streets, began with a single project.

The first of Walla Walla's Infrastructure Repair and Replacement Plan projects was completed this month as a quarter-mile of asphalt was laid over new water and sewer pipes along Morton Street between Third and Chase avenues.

The final cost for this project will be $513,000.

Two other IRRP projects are on tap to be finished this year. A $488,000 Bryant Avenue infrastructure replacement project from Howard Street west to where Bryant Avenue dead ends, and the $777,000 Palouse Street work between East Birch and Newell streets.

The IRRP, approved by the Walla Walla City Council this spring, calls for replacing two miles of city streets and underground pipes each year for the next 90 years. It is being financed by boosting sewer and water rates up to 50 percent over the next five years.

This long-term project needs to be done -- and it appears the city is doing it the right way.

Walla Walla is one of the older cities in the Pacific Northwest. Our sewer and water system was in place before most of the state's cities were cities. The standards for sewer and water pipes a century ago were far different than today. It's estimated the city is losing 1 billion gallons of clean, drinkable water every year because the underground pipes are broken or too small. The leaks in the sewer system are likely comparable.

But while the need for an overhaul was easy to grasp, getting funding was far more difficult. Nobody wants to pay higher utility rates.

The recent downturn in the ecomomy made the prospect of higher fees more daunting.

Nevertheless, City Manager Nabiel Shawa reached out to the community through a series of public meetings to explain what needed to be fixed and how much those fixes would cost. The various options were made clear to taxpayers.

As we have said before, but it's worth saying again, city staff and elected officials did a good job of listening to the public.

City officials are off to a solid start with what's been done on -- and under -- Morton Street.

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