The Birmingham Water Works is spending almost $73 million next year on infrastructure projects, including a $2 million improvement to the Lake Purdy Dam.

Lake Purdy was constructed between 1906 and 1910, to supply water to the Birmingham area. It supplies water to the Water Works' largest treatment plant, which is capable of producing 80 million gallons per day. 

According to a press release from the Water Works public relations manager Rick Jackson, the utility intends to construct an "extensive downstream concrete buttress" as well as improve the reservoir's bedrock, protection from erosion, access road and inlet and outlet valves. It will also replace the dam bridge and conduct "environmental and cultural assessments."

"Lake Purdy is one of the jewels in the crown of our reservoir system, and we want to make sure it remains structurally sound for generations to come," said Derrick Murphy, the assistant general manager at the Water Works. "We are glad to be underway with this and all the other major projects coming in 2023."

Jackson said the utility would spend the remaining $71 million on replacing pipelines, maintenance and repair projects and general capital, technology and distribution projects. 

In November, the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) approved two new budgets for fiscal year (FY) 2023, which amount to a combined total of $197,612,101. 

The new budgets also call for a 3.9% rate hike, which is less than half of the rate increase that was proposed in September and identical to the rate hike that came with last year's budget.

Water Works general manager Michael Johnson blamed the rising costs of water treatment chemicals, power and labor. He also said the Water Works has to replace miles of galvanized steel and unlined cast iron pipe, which makes up 15% of the utility's system but accounts for 67% of its maintenance activity. 

Birmingham Water Works has been the focal point of harsh public criticism over the past year due to billing issues that have left some customers with suspiciously hefty water bills.

Earlier this year, thousands of customers reportedly didn't receive bills for months at a time. Later, they received much larger or multiple bills all at once.

The bills were also not based on accurate meter readings but were estimations using previous months' usage. Birmingham Water Works blamed the issues on a lack of meter readers and insufficient staffing.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall asked the BWWB in October to turn over a handful of documents about the proposed rate increase.

When 1819 News reached out to Marshall's office for an update, Marshall's communications director Mike Lewis said the attorney general has nothing new to add on this matter.

The issues have also drawn the attention of public figures on both sides of the aisle, including Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, a Democrat, and State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills).

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