The city's sewer problems in northwest Lawrence may not be as bad as once feared.
Assistant City Manager Debbie Van Saun said Tuesday that a recently completed report by Lawrence-based Wade & Associates found that sewer pipes in the rapidly growing area weren't on the verge of overflowing.
"We don't know everything, but what we do know seems to be good," Van Saun said.
Van Saun said the report should provide city leaders enough data to allow several projects that have been delayed to move forward. City planners had flagged about a half-dozen projects because of concerns regarding the ability of the sewer system in the area to accommodate additional development.
But the report doesn't put the sewer issue - which has left developers wringing their hands - entirely to rest. Van Saun stopped short of saying projects that are planned but haven't yet officially applied for city approval will be given a green light.
Instead, she said the new data will give city leaders more reliable information about whether a new project will require improvements to the city's sewer system.
"We will be able to tell them what system improvements may or may not be needed before their project can proceed," Van Saun said.
Van Saun said that means the city will have better information to determine whether the city should spend money to speed up completion of a sewer project to accommodate growth or whether a developer should be asked to pay for a portion of a project to speed it up.
Members of the development community were taking a wait-and-see-approach with the report.
"We're ready to see how the city goes into this next stage of evaluation," said Phil Struble, president of Landplan Engineering. "Hopefully it will allow current and future projects to move forward in a timely manner. My understanding, though, is that this is just the first piece of the puzzle."
City Commissioner Mike Amyx said he also wanted to hear more about the new findings before determining whether the report was good news.
"I'm going to remain cautiously optimistic about this thing, but I haven't seen everything I need to see yet," Amyx said.
Amyx said he wanted to ensure that the city is certain new development in the area won't cause pipes to become so full that raw sewage backs up into basements and through manhole covers.
Van Saun said the $26,000 report - completed Friday - was the best information the city has to date about the northwest area's system. The report used "flow meters" to measure the actual amount of material moving through pipes in the area. It then projected how much material would be moving through the pipes during heavy rainstorms.
Van Saun said until this report was completed, the city's concerns had been based primarily on the fact that the area in 2005 had as many people living in it as was projected for 2010. But population is only one factor in determining whether a sewer system is becoming overloaded. The amount of water that seeps into the pipes during rainstorms also is a major factor in determining whether a sewer system is at capacity.
The engineering firm of Black & Veatch is working on a larger study of the area that will make recommendations about projects that need to be completed to accommodate new development in the area. That study is expected to be completed this spring. The city, however, already has decided to speed up by a year a project to enlarge a pump station near Sixth and Kentucky streets, which moves a large portion of the area's sewage.