Kaukauna water tower

KAUKAUNA — There’s no issue in Kaukauna that gets residents riled up more quickly than the quality of our water.

Because it comes from five wells tapped deep into mineral rich aquafers, Kaukauna’s water has had for generations an unwelcome reputation as being particularly hard and for many, the taste makes it undrinkable.

Although the water is safe to drink, according to the latest water quality report from the city, residents have invested in filters, water softeners and reverse osmosis systems to improve water quality and to extend the life of expensive appliances like water heaters.

But now, in a once in a generation windfall of federal cash unleashed because of the pandemic, city officials are looking into ways to finally and permanently improve Kaukauna’s water.

Between last year and this year, Kaukauna will receive a total of roughly $1.7 million in American Recovery Plan Act funding.

Kaukauna Mayor Tony Penterman said city department heads are currently discussing possible uses for the ARPA money.

“I recently formed an ARPA Committee (see below) and have asked each department head, including the general manager from Kaukauna Utilities and the City Council, to come back with a list of potential projects the funds could be used for,” Penterman said.

But a recent thread on a post in the Kaukauna Community group suggests tackling water quality will be among the ideas.

In the thread, Penterman said city leaders have had discussions on researching treatment options such as reverse-osmosis that would, “eliminate water softeners, purchasing salt for softeners, extend the life of appliances, improve the environment, etc.”

The deadline for department heads to report back to the committee is April 1, so any plans are still in the discussion phase.

“It would be premature for me to announce any projects at this time but we want to do projects that have the greatest impact on the city as a whole,” Penterman said in a statement.

Once the projects do come in, the committee will discuss and rate the importance of each project along with the cost of each project. Those will then be brought to the council for discussion, according to Penterman.

Another possible focus of ARPA funds could be the replacement of lead services pipes from mains in the streets to residents’ homes.

At a common council meeting last April, when the first disbursement of ARPA funds was announced, Second District Alder John Moore suggested ARPA funds be used for lead line replacement.

Penterman also said, in a Facebook comment, that lead line replacement was being considered.

If lead line replacement does make it into the final spending plan, that could be a significant help to affected homeowners.

An ordinance change in 2020 requires homeowners with lead service lines to have them replaced at their own expense.

In any case, city leaders have plenty of time to finalize their plans.

The city has until the end of 2024 to decide on how to spend the money, then another two years to finish spending it.

Separately, Kaukauna Utilities is also looking into funding available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to address water quality for residents. (MORE)

Other Fox Valley communities are considering similar proposals.

Appleton, for example, is expected to use $1 million of its $14.9 million in ARPA funds for lead service line replacement.

Outagamie County also is receiving about $36.5 million, some of which may be used to help communities.

According to the Treasury Department, ARPA funds can be used to:

  • Replace lost public sector revenue, using this funding to provide government services up to the amount of revenue lost due to the pandemic
  • Respond to the far-reaching public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic, by supporting the health of communities, and helping households, small businesses, impacted industries, nonprofits, and the public sector recover from economic impacts
  • Provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical sectors
  • Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, to support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and to expand affordable access to broadband internet

The Treasury Department rules specifically prohibit using the money to offset local property taxes.

Final recommendations for ARPA spending will be made by the city’s American Rescue Plan Act Local Relief Committee.

Members of the committee are:

  • Mayor Tony Penterman
  • Finance Director William Van Rossum
  • DPW/City Engineer John Neumeier
  • Director of Planning and Community Development Joe Stephenson
  • City Attorney Kevin Davidson
  • HR Director Shanon Swaney
  • Fire Chief Jake Carrel
  • Police Chief Jamie Graff
  • Library Director Ashley Theim-Menning
  • 1000 Islands Naturalist Deb Nowak
  • Communications Coordinator Brittney Simonson
  • Street Department Supervisor Pat Vanden Heuvel/Jake Van Gompel
  • Grignon Mansion Ex. Dir. Cassidy Mickelson
  • Recreation Director Jeff Malloy
  • Information Technology Don Krause
  • KU GM Michael Avanzi



Paid partnership

By Dan Plutchak

Dan Plutchak, born and raised in Kaukauna, is cofounder of Kaukauna Community News.