Nearly 40 percent of the 10,000 households in Andover still use private well water. Now, as the north suburb established in 1974 begins to rebuild roads, city leaders want to study the idea of adding water mains to some parts of the city still on private wells.

In the past it’s been a delicate subject, with many residents balking at the additional costs associated with making the switch. Connecting to city water typically costs $15,000 to $20,000 per household, according to the city public works director. Opposition sometimes involves more than dollars, though, with residents preferring the rural flavor of the outer-ring suburb.

In December, the City Council agreed to seek $50,000 in federal funds to study the feasibility of adding municipal water mains in some areas now served by individual wells.

Andover Community Development Director David Carlberg said most of the areas to be studied are older, more urban neighborhoods already connected to municipal sewer service. They include the areas south of Round Lake and those around Crooked Lake. When these neighborhoods were built in the 1970s, city water was not available. Now, with extensive road rebuilding being planned, the time is right to consider water mains, officials say.

This year, the city is starting a five-year $34 million capital improvement plan that includes extensive road, curb and storm sewer repairs. “If you are going to do the streets, it makes sense to do the other underground utilities,” Carlberg said. “It can help lower the cost for residents.”

A big if

A feasibility study could be used to secure additional federal dollars to lower connection costs or help households in hooking up — if the City Council decides to add water mains. City staff stress that that’s a big if. There are no firm plans to add mains at this point.

Until now, discussions about extending water mains have been piecemeal. When the city does extensive roadwork in a neighborhood, officials hold meetings with neighbors to discuss adding a main. There have never been any takers and the city has never pushed the issue.

But City Administrator Jim Dickinson said it’s the city’s job to think ahead and explore options.

“We are at that point where a lot of the good property in Andover has been developed. We now start to look at the existing stock in the community and what ways can we add value to the existing stock,” Dickinson said. “We are trying to find ways to preserve the existing neighborhoods. That is why we are starting to focus on it.”

The city hears little about problems with private wells but said that water resources are a more visible issue across the state these days and that it’s better for residents to know their options now than to wait for a future problem.

Reliable city water service is also something many home buyers seek, Carlberg said. Adding municipal mains could help future home values. City water is treated for iron and manganese, improving its taste.

“You’ve got a higher water quality. It is being treated. It is coming from a supply you know is consistent,” Carlberg said.

A question for Ramsey, too

Neighboring Ramsey is at a similar juncture. About 4,000 of the city’s 8,300 households are on private wells and septic systems.

“We are in the process of developing a five-year street reconstruction plan. That is something we will be wrestling with,” said Ramsey City Engineer Bruce Westby.

Unlike in Andover, switching to city water is up to individual residents in Ramsey.

“According to our city charter, we cannot compel our businesses and residents to connect with city utilities if they have functioning private systems,” Westby said. People typically like their private systems.”