About Water & Light

Our mission is to deliver reliable, safe and cost effective water and electric service to meet our citizen owners’ needs while providing exceptional customer service and environmental stewardship.

Columbia Water & Light was formed by voter approval in 1904. Since then, the utility has been furnishing Columbians with low cost, reliable electricity and high quality water. Every customer is an owner of the utility and has a say in how the utility is run.  Policy recommendations are made to the Council by the Water & Light Advisory Board and ordinance changes impacting Columbia Water & Light are made by the City Council. The utility is run as a department of the City of Columbia Utilities. Payment-in-lieu-tax contributions are made to city government in the form of a gross receipts tax equivalent and a property tax equivalent.

 Water System

Electric System

Customers: 48,581 (November 2016)

Source of water: Groundwater from an alluvial aquifer

Peak water use day: 25.3 million gallons (July 25, 2012)

Average daily pumping rate: 12.7 million gallons (2016)

Average water use: 7 cubic hundred feet (CCF) for the year, average winter use is 6 CCF and summer is 9 CCF.

Water Territory: 89.18 miles of service area, both inside and outside of the city limits

Water supply mains: 700.16 miles (September 2016)

Fire hydrants: 5,972 (September 2016)

ISO rating: 3water and light logo

Customers: 49,025 (November 2016)

Peak electric load: 277 MW (August 2, 2011)

Sources of electricity: Sikeston, Prairie State, Iatan II, MISO market, Crystal Lake wind, Jefferson City landfill gas, Bluegrass Ridge wind, Columbia landfill gas, Columbia Energy Center and solar.

Renewable energy for 2015: Renewable energy total was 80,796 megawatt hours or 6.82% of the electric portfolio.

Average Electric Service Availability Index: 99.9876

Average residential usage: 805 kilowatt hours (kWh) a month (for non-electric heating customers)

Electric territory: Territorial agreement with Boone Electric for the Columbia/Boone County area. Download the electric service territory map in a .pdf file.

Miles of overhead lines: 350.9 (September 2016)

Miles of underground lines: 567.3 (September 2016)

Street lights: Total of 9,903 (September 2016)

Dusk to dawn lights: Total of 2,072 (September 2016)

 The History

A Community Tradition

In 1904, Columbia voters decided to form a municipal utility in order to ensure public control of the city’s water and power supplies. Public control, it was felt, would guarantee quality electricity and clean water, while keeping rates low. Today, Columbia Water & Light has not only met these goals but has been able to reinvest money into the community. During the late 1800s, Columbia was suffering the effects of not having an electric and water supplier. The inadequate supply of water was beginning to take its toll on the community. In 1888 the buildings on the northwest corner of Broadway and Eighth Street were destroyed by fire. In 1892, lack of water lead to the complete destruction of Academic Hall at the University of Missouri. State Legislators informed Columbia that the University would be moved if an adequate water supply for fighting fires was not insured.

The threat of losing the University prompted a group of citizens to form the Columbia Water and Light Company. The site for the power plant and dam was Hinkson Creek, on the east side of where the Stephens golf course is today. A small steam engine room was built on the banks of the creek to provide electricity. A dam was constructed and the impounded surface water was pumped into the city.

Unfortunately, there were still problems to contend with. Electricity was a luxury that only a few wealthy citizens could afford. The water supply was found to be contaminated and had very low pressure. Citizens were not happy with the situation and pursued an election to approve the formation of a public water and light utility. People wanted access to cheaper electricity, and they wanted safe water with adequate pressure.

Voters approved the measure to have a municipal utility in 1904 and they sanctioned a $100,000 bond. Two-thirds of the money went to buy the Water & Light Company, with one third for new construction. The power plant was moved to its current location on Business Loop 70 and two new deep wells were dug. The newly formed utility was run by a board of citizens.

The Early Years

The early years of Water & Light were spent developing the utility and reducing rates. As more people had access to electricity and new electrical appliances hit the market, demand went up. Extra revenue from this increased use was reinvested back into the utility through capital improvements. Therefore, consumers benefited from their investment in a public power system. The more electricity was used, the more reliable the system became.

Columbia’s water system also saw improvements. Deep wells were dug in order to combat contamination problems. A water tower was built on Walnut Street in 1945, enabling storage of one million gallons of water. The increased water pressure from the new tower, along with the placement of a greater number of fire hydrants throughout the city, provided Columbia stronger defenses against the ravages of fire.

Profits were not only used for the infrastructure. They were returned to Columbians through rate reductions. Within thirty years, Columbia Water & Light cut rates in half. Today, electricity is one of the few things in town that costs the same as it did in the 1930s.

Community Development

Community development was not one of the original goals of having a municipal utility, but since the early years, Water & Light has been an integral part of the city’s revenue stream. Since 1917, the city has received a gross receipts tax from the Water & Light Department. This tax helps supplement the city’s general revenue fund for services. The advantage to citizens is that other taxes like those on personal property can remain low.

During the depression, Water & Light funds were used to build the Municipal Building and the fire and police facility. The construction helped stimulate a depressed economy by putting people to work. Since Water and Light funds were used, raising taxes to pay for the project was not necessary. Water & Light resources were also contributed to the Municipal Airport, remodeling of the old library, land for the cancer hospital, the Armory, sewers, pools and parks. The advantage of having a municipal utility is that extra funds generated by the utility are invested back into the community, rather than going to a few private investors.

Today, the effects of having a well-run municipal utility are still felt throughout the community. With money being reinvested in the system for almost a hundred years, we have a power plant we can count on. It provides us a local, reliable source of power. Columbia’s water now comes from a series of shallow wells in the Missouri River alluvial plain. This means that the water goes through a natural filtration process and is constantly replenished. After water is softened and filtered at the water treatment plant, it goes to the pump stations and then to the consumer. The current plant has a design capacity to process at a rate of 32 million gallons a day. Water is stored in three water towers that provide capacity for peak flows and fire fighting. Our water system enables Columbia to have one of the highest ISO ratings in the state, which saves customers money on fire insurance

Customers also benefit from free energy conservation programs like energy audits and free shade trees. Other energy programs for customers include low interest loans for increasing energy efficiency and load control discounts.  

Along with offering electricity and water at reasonable rates, the Water & Light Department also runs a short line railroad. In the early 1980s, Norfolk Southern decided that the spur of railroad leading into Columbia was too expensive to maintain. It was determined that the loss of railroad traffic into Columbia would have a negative impact on the economy and the industries here. So, the City of Columbia stepped in and bought the railroad in October 1987. Under the Water & Light Department, the railroad has been an integral part of retaining business and attracting new industries to Columbia. 

In Closing

Columbia Water & Light is a locally owned municipal utility. The Water & Light Department is now run as a separate entity of the city. The utility contributes to the government in the form of a gross receipts tax, property taxes and contributions to the general fund. One hundred years after being formed, City of Columbia Water & Light has developed a strong infrastructure while keeping rates low. Due to local ownership, profits have stayed in the community to benefit the community.