The truth about the hike: WWTA’s new rate plan and how it will affect you By Lindsay GobleJordan Hamilton County’s Wastewater Treatment Authority recently passed a rate increase and program fee that has many in the community reeling in tight economic times. But is the mania merited? “This has been a very difficult situation for the WWTA,” said WWTA Chairman Henry Hoss. “We’ve always tried to be very good stewards of the sewer fees we collect from the public and the decision to implement the program was not taken lightly.” The program is the Private Service Lateral Program and it calls for an eight dollar monthly increase for customers who are served by the gravity portion of WWTA’s sewer collection system. The program works in three steps; the first two steps, inspections and testing, will cost approximately $250$300 per home, while the final step, repair, will cost $3000$5000 per home. The monthly eight dollar increase offsets these charges. Many, however, are still unsure as to what the money will actually be repairing and if their homes even have any problems to be fixed. According to Steven Pearlman of the Neponset River Watershed Association, there are many potentially dangerous and expensive repairs in riverreliant communities such as Chattanooga, many of them almost impossible for a consumer to detect alone. Inflow and infiltration, or ‘I & I,’ is extraneous nonwastewater that flows into the service lateral, the line that runs from the foundation of the home or business to the public sewer main. “This ‘I & I’ causes sanitary sewer overflows into houses and streams and drains away any clean groundwater that might otherwise benefit our wetlands, waterways, and water supplies,” writes Pearlman in his 2007 handbook Minimizing Municipal Costs for Infiltration and Inflow Remediation. Pearlman goes on to point out that when this clean groundwater seeps into a service lateral, it mixes with “real” sewage, and then must be treated in a wastewater treatment facility – which consumers are ultimately charged for by the gallon. The cost isn’t always the only price to pay, however, when extraneous water flows into a public main. In 1993, Milwaukee, Wisc. gained national attention for massive water contamination due to a parasite, Cryptosporidium, that passed through an overflowing filtration center and straight into the drinking water of Milwaukeans. The overflow was caused by ‘I & I.’
Just this year, the city of San Francisco, Cal. dumped nearly three million gallons of contaminated water into San Francisco Bay after a pump failed due to overflow in the South Marin Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment facility. Closer to home, the city of Knoxville, Tenn. has also suffered great ecological damage from ‘I & I’ and recently took drastic steps to protect their own community. Not only are the citizens of Knoxville responsible for costly sewer lateral repairs themselves, customers who do not comply will have their water and sewage service terminated. “Our goal has always been to provide the best sewer service to our customers,” said Hoss of local lines. “The Private Service Lateral Program will aid in the elimination of inflow and infiltration into our sewer system as well as help reduce harmful pathogens from contaminating our creeks, stream, and waterways. This will result in a longrange plan to keep our environment clean and safe for the future.” So how does ‘I & I’ get into my home’s sewer lateral in the first place? According to the authority, the sewer lateral pipe can be composed of clay, brick, concrete, cast iron, VCP, PVC, and/or ABS composite depending on when the house was built as well as the topography and physical location of the property. For example, even though lines in Soddy Daisy are newer than those on Signal Mountain, the soil between the two areas is vastly different. Corse soil, like the land between these two areas, can directly affect the stability of lateral lines. Because of these varying factors, it is impossible to detect ‘I & I’ just by looking at the outside of a house or inspecting outdoor pipes. Laterals can break, shift, collapse, or become infiltrated with roots over time, and the only way to know who is contributing to ‘I & I’ is to inspect each community’s lines in an undiscriminating manner. Another major contributor to the problem is customers who may have roof or yard drain pipes connected to their service laterals and those who drain wet areas such as swimming pools and ponds into the system. Particularly during heavy rainfall, this water is sent gushing through the WWTA’s treatment facility, causing overflow and increasing the risk of pathogens in the local water supply. The constant treatment of nonpolluted water strains the system, stretches resources, and costs the company – and the customer – more money. How does the program work? The total charges for inspection and repairs could cost the costumer as much as $5,300. To relieve this financial burden, the Private Service Lateral Program created by WWTA calls for an eight dollar fee added to each monthly bill. Hoss believes this will save the customer costly upfront expenditures in such tumultuous economic times. The program is likely to begin in early 2009, with Signal Mountain homes first on the list to be inspected. WWTA will then move to the areas of Lookout Mountain, Red Bank,
East Ridge, and Soddy Daisy. If inspectors find a problem with a customer’s service lateral, the WWTA will then bid out contracts for repair. Contractors and the WWTA will work closely to coordinate their work with municipal governments and Hamilton County officials. Once the initial inspection and repairs – if needed – are complete, the consumer becomes responsible for the cost of required testing every five years. What are the benefits to me? In addition to protecting the local ecosystem, waterways and wildlife, a proactive approach to problems like ‘I & I’ helps to decrease the possibility of contracting harmful pathogens from local water supplies. It also puts money back into the pockets of consumers by eliminating unnecessary expenditures caused by overflow. Perhaps most convincing, however, is that the program is required by law. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, in an attempt to correct the issues caused by ‘I & I’ in Hamilton County, ordered WWTA to come up with the Private Service Lateral Program. By complying with the Order, consumers and the WWTA are taking proactive steps in the conservation of natural resources in Southeast Tennessee and ensuring the beauty and vitality of the Tennessee Valley for generations to come.