Study: sewer system needs to be overhauled

DOWNEY - The findings of a recent study to evaluate the city's sanitary sewer system indicate sewers here are more than 50 years old, filled with debris, grease, roots and vermin and in dire need of rehabilitation.The findings also revealed that the current sewer revenue (approximately $300,000 per year) has not kept pace with expanding costs related to regulation, inflation, and the aging infrastructure and is insufficient if the city is to fulfill the requirements laid down by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) that was adopted on May 2, 2006. RMC Water Environment, Inc., with Larson Consulting and Bartle Wells Associates acting as subconsultants, was retained by the city to assist staff formulate a master plan aimed at ensuring sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) are minimized or eliminated altogether. These findings, along with staff recommendations, were discussed at the Council workshop convened Tuesday. Among the study's other findings/recommendations endorsed by staff: •Downey's sewer rates have remained unchanged since 1997; •Even with the proposed rate revision, Downey's rates would still remain below those of any of its neighboring cities; •With 5 percent of system inspected (involving 50,000 feet of 6-21-inch clay pipes), 7 percent of this requires immediate repair or rehabilitation/replacement to reduce the risk of sanitary system overflows (fines attached could be prohibitive); •Minimum of 0.6 miles of rehabilitation and 1 mile of repairs/year needed; •The entire system of 193 miles of pipes (and featuring more than 4,000 manholes) need to be inspected by camera in five years, with re-inspection at 5 to 30-year intervals, depending on condition/age; and •Both lift stations are more than 60 years old, inefficient and need to be replaced; now situated far apart, they need to be consolidated into one new station, to reduce operational and maintenance costs and eradicate risk of sanitary sewer overflows (design drawings are currently being produced). An updated rate structure would provide for a) ongoing operational and maintenance costs, b) funding of reserves, c) capital improvements, and unscheduled expenses (emergency repairs, for instance). In any case, the creation of a self-sustaining Sewer Fund is meant to eliminate dependence on current transfers from General and Water Funds, which would free these monies for other services. Total estimated projected cost to implement the sewer master plan improvements from FY2010-11 to FY2019-20 is $7.92 million, which would include costs of rehabilitation, spot repair, inspections, and re-inspections. The proposed new sewer rate structure will generate 60 percent of revenues from fixed charges and 40 percent from variable charges (sewer fixed charge is based on the size of the water meter-the larger the meter, the greater the charge; the sewer variable charge is based on the percentage of Winter Water Flow assumed to return to the sewer system by customer class). Under this scheme, the typical single family (usually served by a 5/8-inch meter) rate will increase from the current $0.95/mo. to $3.12/mo. beginning July 1, 2010, which staff says is still a bargain compared to other cities' rates. When approved, staff considers these increases will generate enough income to meet sewer master plan requirements. All these are to follow certain processes and procedures, including new rate notification to property owners, and time for submission of queries, and the like. A public hearing on the subject is scheduled for Dec. 8, 2009. For now, the bottom line is that sewer system master plan and the new sewer rate structure will be up for approval by the Council on Tuesday, Oct. 27. The next regular public City Council meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 13 at City Hall, 11111 Brookshire Ave.

********** Published: October 9, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 25