Combined Sewers

Older parts of Middletown, like many other older cities across the nation, have combined sewers that drain both rain water and sanitary sewage.  The combined sewer flow is transported to the waste water treatment plant during dry periods.  When there are significant rain events, the combined sewers are overloaded with rain water and they discharge the overload at several points into the river.  This is consistent with the normal design of sewer systems of the past.  The bulk of the overflow discharged into the river is rain water; however, it is mixed with a small percentage of sewage.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s CSO Control Policy, published April 19, 1994, is the national framework for control of combined sewers.  The Policy provides guidance on how communities with combined sewer systems can meet Clean Water Act goals.  The EPA requires that cities with combined sewers implement long term control plans to address the overflows into the river.

The City of Middletown is in active discussions with the EPA on a solution to address our combined sewer overflows into the river.  There are multiple techniques and technologies that can be used to address this issue.  Multiple alternatives specific to our situation are being evaluated by staff and the EPA.  The alternatives are all expensive, ranging in cost from approximately $80 million to $250 million over a 20-25 year period.

During this 20-25 year time frame, major rehabilitation will also be necessary for our sewer collection system and for our waste water treatment plant.  These additional costs could be as high as another $200 million.

The future costs of dealing with our combined sewers and upgrading aged sewer and waste water infrastructure to move us compliantly and sustainably into the future will likely be between $280-450 million when complete.

Funding options for these improvements are limited primarily to user fees.  Yes… that means we are going to be raising sewer rates substantially over the next several years.   That increase will start at some point this fall with a 10% increase in sewer rates.   We will be discussing this in the Journal News, at City Council meetings and on our city web page.   We’ll let the public know well in advance when to expect the increase in their monthly bill.

To make the increase in rates more clear to our residents, we will show the 10% increase as a separate line item on your bill with some designation that makes it clear that this is being collected to pay for costs associated with the long term control plan.   We will also separate out the 10% increase and bank it in a separate account so that it remains earmarked and spent for whatever long term control plan is eventually implemented.

So what does that mean to you?  As always… it depends.

Many variables factor into monthly water and sewer charges so trying to calculate a meaningful average is challenging. For example eligible senior citizens get reduced rates; water leaks in homes are frequent and would drive water consumption up; summer months tend to increase water usage with lawn watering, pool filling, etc.; many apartment complexes have only one meter that feeds each unit so that would only count as one user with significant usage; industrial and commercial users have different rates and usages.  Finally, personal preferences affect usage. If you take a 20 minute shower every day, you’ll use more than the average.

That being said, the average family of four uses about 1,000 cubic feet of water per month.  Based on that usage, the sewer charge would be $21.10 for sewer each month.  A 10% increase would therefore raise the sewer portion of your bill $2.11 per month or $25.32 annually.  Your usage may be higher or lower than this, so the actual number will be based on your individual usage.

Regardless of the final EPA solution and the resulting cost, our hope is that using smaller rate increases now and in the future spread out over time will be easier on the public than very large raises at one time in the future.  It’s an imperfect solution to a very expensive problem that won’t be going away.

You’ll be hearing more and more about the 10% sewer charge increase and the long term control plan in the future.  You should feel free to ask questions either here or during those public discussions.  We are here to do our best to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it.

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