The original price tag had been forecast at about $14.9 million.
Projected costs over the decade-long initiative are expected to lead to wastewater rate increases of 4.5 percent in Fiscal Years 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and a 5 percent sewer rate hike in Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020, according to Ken Webb, CU vice president of Finance.
In order to pay the costs associated with the Strategic Commitment to Protect the Environment (SCOPE 10) initiative which spans a decade of sewer system improvements, CU had already budgeted 4 percent wastewater rate hikes in Fiscal Years 2014, 2015 and 2017, and a 5 percent increase in FY 2019. However, the numbers have risen over the past few months and especially after the unprecedented Labor Day 2011 flooding which forced utility leaders to rethink the speed and magnitude of SCOPE 10.
CU has scheduled no rate hikes for FY 2013, but in order to make an appreciative difference quickly in the I/I issues that create manhole overflows during periods of heavy storms, the utility is faced with future wastewater rate increases in order to pay for the massive sewer system rehab.
I/I refers to unwanted water that seeps into existing sewer lines through cracks or breaks, or through damaged manholes. The water intrusion leads to overflows in the middle of city streets while placing excessive pressure on the wastewater treatment plant. Overflows contribute to neighborhood flooding and potential health hazards, too many of which could lead to violations of the utility’s NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit which regulates pollutants within a utility’s water and wastewater system.
Violations could also invite involvement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a federal department that has already stepped in to force surrounding utility companies to address chronic overflow issues. Recent EPA mandates have been leveled against neighboring utilities in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville, Brentwood and Oak Ridge.
“These utilities have currently committed to spend in excess of $2.2 billion to comply with EPA orders,” according to a report by Greg Clark, a seven-year CU water engineer who recently was named manager of the SCOPE 10 sewer rehabilitation program. “These communities have either been required to increase rates or have had to raise rates to fund the (sewer rehab) programs.”
That’s the bad news. The worse news is those required rate increases have ranged from 50 percent to 330 percent, Clark explained. CU hopes to accomplish some of the same goals through its own sewer rehab program while doing it with much smaller 4.5 and 5 percent sewer rate hikes.
Along with alleviating some of Cleveland’s storm- and sewer-related flooding issues and addressing potential health hazards, this is another reason CU is toiling to jumpstart the SCOPE 10 initiative. Quick progress will curtail the amount of I/I and this will help to curb overflow issues.
If overflow is not immediately and effectively addressed through SCOPE 10 and a couple of additional CU initiatives, then the utility could fall in violation of its NPDES permit and EPA could force sewer moratoriums. This would mean no further new sewer connections onto the CU system until violations have been corrected.
CU is already operating on a self-imposed sewer moratorium in the Wildwood Avenue area.
The local utility company officially launched SCOPE 10 last year as a more aggressive step to an I/I project that was already under way in the South Cleveland basin where engineers believed some of the city’s worst I/I was taking place. Littlejohn Engineering Associates was contracted to lead the I/I effort which included smoke testing and the use of closed-circuit TV cameras through the existing sewer system to identify defective sections of line and manholes.
Work was progressing, but the city’s massive flooding on Labor Day 2011 forced the decision to expedite the process with far more aggressive actions. Since that time, engineers have identified Manhole 10A-22, located in Tinsley Park, as being a chronic overflow point.
“Manhole 10A-22’s importance is paramount, as approximately 52 percent of the entire sewer system is located upstream of this manhole,” Clark cited. “Therefore, if we exceed the permissable number of overflows at Manhole 10A-22, CU could be required to self-impose a moratorium on all new sewer connections upstream of Manhole 10A-22.”
Because moratoriums shut down sewer connections, this could impact new development.
Clark quoted CU’s current NPDES permit which states, “No new or additional flows shall be added upstream of any point in the collection system which experiences chronic overflows (greater than five events per year) or would otherwise overload any portion of the system.”
Clark stressed, “It’s very critical we do the work.”
CU President and CEO Tom Wheeler agreed and pointed out the local utility wants to prevent potential health risks, neighborhood flooding and self-imposed moratoriums.
Of last year’s Labor Day flooding, Clark’s report pointed out, “The overflows, building backups and excessive flows throughout the collection system reinforced the idea that a more aggressive long-term plan was required to deal with I/I.”
Wheeler said the planned sewer rate hikes will make the continuation of SCOPE 10 initiatives “very manageable.” Project successes also will satisfy the NPDES permit and will protect from EPA mandates that are impacting other public utilities that are struggling with overflow issues of their own.
Wheeler stressed CU will not plunge into the full $29 million investment overnight. He said each leg of the initiative will be evaluated and results will be closely monitored. If the utility fails to achieve the positive gains it is expecting, changes will be made in order to maintain the cost-effectiveness of the campaign.
In the meantime, the CU Board will seek a joint meeting with members of the Cleveland City Council in order to fully update the governing body on the SCOPE 10 strategy, its future expectations and its anticipated costs. Wheeler said he hopes to schedule the joint session sometime within the next two months.
To continue the SCOPE 10 progress, board members Thursday took two actions, including:
- Approved a contract with Littlejohn Engineering Associates in the amount of $56,000 for the preparation of contract documents, technical specifications and plans for the rehabilitation of manholes and sewer lines in Basin 31-45. Funding for this project is included in CU’s approved budget for FY 2012.
- Approved a contract with Littlejohn Engineering Associates in the amount of $580,000 for inspection activities such as smoke testing, manhole inspections, flow isolation testing, closed circuit television (CCTV) and sonar inspection of sewer lines in Basin 10-36. Results from the inspection work will lead to an estimated budget and rehabilitation projects. Funding for the project is included in the approved budget for FY 2012.
Of SCOPE 10 as an overall initiative, Wheeler acknowledged, “It is a huge undertaking.”