Archive for Friday, November 23, 2012

Dispute with EPA plays into possible water and sewer rate increases in Lawrence

November 23, 2012


The city of Lawrence and the Environmental Protection Agency have been involved in a quiet four-year debate about the adequacy of the city’s lone sewage treatment plant.

The debate is poised to draw a bit more attention.

City leaders are pointing to their dispute with the EPA as a reason city commissioners should seriously consider a five-year plan to raise water and sewer rates by about 28 percent.

“We run the risk of having the federal government insert itself into our operations and planning,” City Manager David Corliss said of a possible outcome if the city doesn’t raise its sewer rates. “I think most communities have found that to be more expensive than just making the improvements on their own.”

At issue is a dispute that has received little, if any, public discussion at City Hall: The city’s sewage treatment plant technically doesn’t have a current operating permit from the state of Kansas.

Since 2008, the EPA has objected to the renewal of the city’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination Permit on the grounds that the plant, at 1400 E. Eighth St., has illegal sewage discharges during heavy rainstorms.

The city is confident that is not the case. It treats the excess stormwater that infiltrates the city’s sewer pipes with a product called Actiflo.

“It does an excellent job of treating it,” said city utility director Dave Wagner, who stressed the city has seen no evidence that raw sewage is being allowed to bypass the plant and flow directly into the Kansas River during storm conditions.

The city, however, is not so confident that the EPA ultimately will see it that way. In a report to city commissioners, city staff members said there are “no clear answers or direction” about how the EPA may resolve the long-standing dispute.

That may end up being a worry for Lawrence ratepayers. The EPA has mandated wet weather improvements in other nearby communities, which has forced those cities to add a special surcharge onto their monthly sewer bills to pay for the ordered improvements.

Residents in Independence, Mo., for example, will have a $9 per month surcharge added to their bills by 2014, and Kansas City, Mo., has been ordered by the EPA to make $2.4 billion worth of wet weather improvements to its sewage system.

“We think that is a possibility, but we don’t think it is a likelihood,” Corliss said of the city eventually being ordered to make improvements by the EPA. “We believe that’s the case because we’re recommending steps to prevent that type of action.”

Those steps, however, involve five years' worth of rate increases. A new report to city commissioners that would increase rates for a typical residential user by 28.6 percent between now and 2017. The combined water and sewer bill for a typical 4,000 gallon residential user would increase from $47.64 per month currently to $61.30 by 2017.

At the center of the plan is a new sewage treatment plant that would be built on city-owned property south of the Wakarusa River, near the eastern edge of the city. The plant and it is piping system is expected to cost about $65 million.

City officials long have been discussing plans for a new plant, but they mainly have focused on the need for the city to have a second sewage treatment plant to keep up with future growth.

As the city’s population growth has slowed, city commissioners have delayed starting the expensive project. But now city staff members are highlighting the critical role the new plant will play to help alleviate the wet weather problems at the existing plant.

Wagner said the city will reroute much of its existing sewer system to the new plant, which will reduce the size of the wet weather overflows. Currently, there are times that the city’s plant will take on 81 million gallons of stormwater and sewage during a storm, even though the plant has a design capacity of just 65 million gallons per day.

Such an event is usually considered a 10-year storm, and Wagner said it puts tremendous pressure on the plant.

“It is like going 120 miles an hour down a hill in a Volkswagen bug,” Wagner said. “You can manage to do it, but you don’t want to do it very often.”

The city’s plan to reduce wet weather problems also calls for about $14 million worth of work to better seal existing sewer pipes in order to reduce the amount of stormwater that seeps into the pipes.

The recommended rate increases aren’t entirely for sewer projects. City staff members are pointing to several major projects that need to be undertaken for the city’s water system. They include:

• Nearly $4 million to replace the two water tanks atop Mount Oread, which Corliss has nicknamed “Ike” and “Hoover” because one tank was built during the Hoover administration and the other was built during the Eisenhower administration.

• $7.8 million to extend a new main water supply line across the Kansas River into North Lawrence. North Lawrence’s water supply currently relies on a single water line that runs beneath the Kansas River bridge.

• $4.7 million to make improvements to a faulty water intake at the Kaw Water Treatment Plant, one of the city’s two water plants.

“If you talk to a water plant operator, the No. 1 thing they want fixed is that water plant intake,” Wagner said. “We think that is our No. 1 threat to providing water on a reliable basis.

“We’re lucky to have the Clinton plant that can provide all the drinking water we need, but if we lost the Kaw Plant, everybody would have to stop watering their lawns and everything else.”


lunacydetector 5 years, 6 months ago

the 'adjustment fee,' something the city was charging to 30% of the people who timely direct deposited their payment for their water bill, though the 'adjustment' was really a late fee, must have been on purpose.....whatever happened to the money people were over paying for years, anyway?

Boston_Corbett 5 years, 5 months ago

Please move, toe. We all know how you hate it here.

avarom 5 years, 5 months ago a true realist, doesn't have his head buried in the sand, which is commendable. How else does Kansas pay for that Lavish Capital Building....How else are they going to pay for those Gorgeous Expensive Chandaliers....... You All will see a lot more increases on your Utilites, Garbage, Drivers Registration, Increase Taxes, Deductibles, Water and more increases in Service Charges.....Yep... Got us by the Stones again!!!

irvan moore 5 years, 6 months ago

it's interesting that the commission keeps spending money we don't have on wants while neglecting to tell the taxpayers about a true need

bearded_gnome 5 years, 6 months ago

just keep building them thar roundabouts, build that sportycenter ... a sustainability officer's salary ... waste.

don't need the money for real stuff!

Liberty275 5 years, 6 months ago

You have two choices, dump sewage or pay more. So we pay more and stop dumping sewage.

bad_dog 5 years, 6 months ago

"The city is confident that is not the case. It treats the excess stormwater that infiltrates the city’s sewer pipes with a product called Actiflo.

“It does an excellent job of treating it,” said city utility director Dave Wagner, who stressed the city has seen no evidence that raw sewage is being allowed to bypass the plant and flow directly into the Kansas River during storm conditions."

Liberty275 5 years, 5 months ago

We haven't had a hundred year flood in while though. I don't know if what we have is adequate as I don't know a lot about sewage, so I'll just have to defer to the bureaucrats on this one and let them earn their salary fighting it out.

buffalo63 5 years, 6 months ago

During heavy rains we had water backup into our basement before the city made improvements to the storm water drainage system in the neighborhood, This was after years of denying that storm water was getting into the sewer system. Lets actually show leadershhip and plan ahead to do something that will solve real problems that will affect the whole city instead of spending money on "fancy" stuff that only a few will use.

kinder_world 5 years, 6 months ago

The EPA is an out-of-control government division. When they entered the picture it is a done deal. It no longer matters if the City handled the water correctly the EPA will rule in the EPA's favor. Prepare for an increase in your rates to pay for the EPA fine and prepare for the city to add their additional rate hike to pay for their "oh we need this (Translate Want).

vinyl_chloride 5 years, 5 months ago

the EPA is one of the most corrupt agencies of the federal government. the epa worries more about some stupid fish or reptile than they do about people, except for the enviro-whackos.

Briseis 5 years, 6 months ago

Why do government people do this to us?

MartyT 5 years, 5 months ago

The NPDES permitting system has been around for decades. It protects the public health by protecting municipal drinking water supplies. Please, tell me how this is a problem.

50YearResident 5 years, 6 months ago

Why does the J/W always accompany these articles of City Price Increases with the picture of Corliss with a "cheesey" smile on his face? Could a better sober looking photo be used instead? It makes me feel like everything is a big joke to City Hall.

JayhawkFan1985 5 years, 5 months ago

What the story should talk about is how much water and sewer service cost residents compared with how much telephone, cable tv, high speed internet and other utility services cost residents. My point is that water and sewer services are very inexpensive. Plus we need to make sure that our city isn't polluting the Kansas River. Other cities downstream also draw water from the Kansas River. We wouldn't want to drink untreated wastewater from Topeka. We shouldn't do that to Eudora, DeSoto, Shawnee, Bonner Springs, KCK...

JayhawkFan1985 5 years, 5 months ago

The Missouri river is LESS polluted than the Kaw River.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 5 months ago

A 25% increase should always be questioned never blindly accepted

How many increases have taken place in the last 10 years?

Why is Lawrence operating illegally? in the first place? This is what brings on more and stricter regulations.

A new sewage treatment plant is for developers. They have been anxious. Let's not get duped again.

George Lippencott 5 years, 5 months ago

Hold the presses. Now we want a 30% increase in water/sewer fees (which for people who irrigate will not be so trivial.) West Lawrence stand by. By the by it does sound as if a major portion of the increase has nothing to do with the EPA - but more with enabling growth.

We have a public safety shortfall of upwards of 30M. We have a mental health shortfall of – who knows. WE have an un-priced infrastructure needs.

But we are going to spend in excess of 30M on a sports complex for which the city has yet to make a convincing argument for the number of courts – other than it might cost more later – what an argument.

Somebody at city hall must see a future more prosperous than many of us. Federal taxes are going to go up – not just for the rich. State taxes are going to go up (continued sales tax). Federal spending is going to go down. State spending will not go up.

Hello city hall – is anybody listening?? Slow this train down before somebody tests your legal perception that you can use the sales tax for things never mentioned (except generically). Such a initiative may not win but it sure could mess up all the alliances of moneyed interests.

Perhaps our “lawgivers” seek a progressive combined tax load in excess of 50% of a middle class income. It all does add up!!

Centerville 5 years, 5 months ago

What most small towns have learned is that they can usually out-wait EPA staffers who have Napoleon complexes.

George Lippencott 5 years, 5 months ago

Well Independence MO only went up $9 per month as opposed to $14?.

headdoctor 5 years, 5 months ago

The City has known they have problems with the sewer system and that a new plant was required for more than 20 years. I have also heard the same figure tossed around about the cost of a new plant. Once actual bids are submitted we will no doubt get a rude awaking that the cost is much higher. They should have built it years earlier when the cost wasn't what it will be now.

Some of their denial about the condition of the system had to do with repair cost that they didn't want to deal with. The rest of the denial was to avoid getting their butts sued off for negligence. In the mid 1990's they knew that with even a light rain 15 to 18 percent of their sewer system failed. Their answer then was to repair lines they knew were bad and add another relief line in East Lawrence.

I doubt a new plant will totally fix the problem if they just tie into the system at the easiest location which will leave the old gravity feed lines still stressed at times before it can be diverted to the new plant.

Liberty275 5 years, 5 months ago

Looking at google earth, the sewer plant seems to be in a flood zone. What good is the entire system when everything in the system can be washed downstream in a flood as large as many this area has had in the past?

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

Are you sure that the mapped flood plain has not been updated due to the presence of Clinton dam, which is of rather recent construction? One of the major purposes of dams is flood control, and I just cannot imagine a flood of that magnitude happening, unless the loss of Clinton dam would occur first.

Liberty275 5 years, 5 months ago

Its in the Kaw's flood plain (or on the edge). The Wakarusa flood plain flows into the kaw just outside town to the east.

jafs 5 years, 5 months ago

This concerns me quite a bit.

Also, I don't understand how they can continue to operate if they don't have the correct permit.

Whether the city or the EPA are correct, this is something that shouldn't take 4 years to resolve. If there are potentially hazardous conditions, I want them corrected much sooner. And, if there aren't, that should be quickly resolved as well.

gccs14r 5 years, 5 months ago

I want to know if the City is still diverting water department income to other purposes. There was an article about that in the paper earlier this year. If they're still siphoning funds, that has to stop before they consider a rate increase. Raise some other rate/tax if there is a general fund shortfall, or quit spending so much on frivolous things.

Water 5 years, 5 months ago

Municipalities and their peope all over the world are facing these issues.

Ya know companies that repair municipal water systems are often publicly traded and are paying 3%-7.5% dividends. Make lemonade.

Also, one could replace their 3.8 gallons per flush toilet with a 1.6 gallon per flush toilet and save....2.2 gallons x 3 flushes per day times 365 days = 2400 gallons per year. That is a big water saving but since we're discussing fees tacked on to our water bill, it won't save you much money. I'd like to add, install a rain barrell to water your plants but it has to RAIN for a rain barrel to be worthwhile. And I'm sorry, what were the alternatives to me pulling a lever and getting clean, drinking water accessible 24/7?

gccs14r 5 years, 5 months ago

Mine's a .8/1.28gpf toilet. Saved 500 gallons a month right off the bat over the old one.

vinyl_chloride 5 years, 5 months ago

KDHE-Bureau of Water issues the NPDES permit, not the EPA. The EPA may comment, but KDHE issues the permit.

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