Charlottesville City Council
has received a cost estimate for repairs to the City’s water and sewer system. City ratepayers can expect to see rates increase later this year to help pay for $45.5 million in capital costs over the next five years to upgrade water and sewer lines maintained by the City.
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Lauren Hildenbrand, the City’s Director of Utilities, presented the report to Council at its meeting on January 7, 2008. She said the issue is not just rehabilitating old pipes for existing customers, but also to address a need for more capacity in the system.
“It has been estimated that we have had over 1,000 dwellings that have been permitted in the last three years within the city,” she said.
The City is responsible for about 180 miles of water main lines, with pipes ranging from two inches to two feet in diameter. Hildenbrand’s department also maintains 163 miles of sewer lines, ranging from six inches to two and a half feet wide. The City of Charlottesville’s Utilities section maintains these lines, in a fashion similar to the
Albemarle County Service Authority
(ACSA) for water and sewer connections inside the urbanized portions of the County. The third group maintaining the water supply and the community’s major sewer pipelines and wastewater treatment plants is the
Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority
“All lines within these three agencies are somewhat interconnected so it really needs to be treated as one system,” Hildenbrand said, adding that the three agencies coordinate repair efforts accordingly.
The City usually spends about $3 million a year on water and sewer improvements. However, Hildenbrand said that at least $18.8 million in water line repairs and upgrades is needed, and $26.7 million in sewer line improvements over the next five years. That represents a tripling of the usual funds. These improvements would be paid for by generating bonds, which would be paid off with revenue from water and sewer bills.
Nationwide, Hildenbrand estimated a $224 billion need for capital costs to repair water and sewer lines across the country. That compares to an estimate of $309 billion in annual operating and maintenance costs.
On water, Hildenbrand said 24 miles of 2” galvanized pipe water lines need to be replaced. “Galvanized lines when they leak tend to split right down the middle and they’re difficult to maintain,” she said. Hildenbrand also recommends new water lines to create a loop, which she said would increase water pressure. Service lines, which connect water meters to main lines, are also slated to be replaced. Finally, the Lambeth pump station needs upgrades to allow for back up power.
Allowing the lines to continue to degrade lessens water quality, potentially causing health risks through infection by water-borne diseases. Reduced water pressure also causes challenges for firefighters.
On sewer, Hildenbrand said there were several necessary upgrades to help prevent infiltration of the sewer system by storm water. That can potentially overload the wastewater plant and cause damage to manholes. Specific improvements include:
Hildenbrand said other projects will be necessary in the future, as the City alters its policies to call for more inspection and maintenance projects to prevent serious degradation.
Funding for these upgrade projects will not come from the City’s General Fund. All of these projects will be paid for by raising bonds, which will then be paid down by the City’s water and sewer customers.
Hildenbrand did not bring numbers for a suggested rate increase at this meeting, but said rates will be studied throughout the spring. Council will hear the proposed new rates in May, and if approved, they’ll go into effect on July 1. These rates will factor in the capital costs for these upgrades, as well as higher rates that will likely be charged by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority. RWSA rates are also expected to rise due to their planned upgrades to the water supply system and sewer treatment facilities.
First among these is an estimated $35.9 million in upgrades to the Moore’s Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant to help remove nutrients from solid waste. This is mandated by the state Department of Environmental Quality. In December, RWSA Director Tom Frederick expressed concern that state funding to pay for some of the the upgrades may be in jeopardy. No new capacity will be created as part of this project. The RWSA will also present an odor control plan at its next meeting in January. Another RWSA project is the replacement of the Meadow Creek Interceptor, which is estimated to cost $25.4 million.
And then there’s the 50-year Community Water Supply plan, which currently is estimated to cost at least $144 million. All of the various infrastructure projects are planned or underway and Mayor
asked City Manager Gary O’Connell to provide Council a one-page list totaling all the various costs.