The presentation given this last Thursday was quite an eye opener. I was thinking that we were to be given the results of a sewer study given by an independent 3rd party. It turns out that the engineering firm giving the study was also giving estimates for performing the work as well.
The first number was 267,000 for fixing some issues with our lagoon system. We have some blockage on our inlet pipe so they want to dig it up and replace some of it. Second we have needed extra “rip rap” which is essentially a type of rock added to the perimeter of the lagoons. Third was noxious weeds that need to be taken care of. Fourth there are gophers that they say should be exterminated. And Fifth was something about discharging that was talked about as well.
The next number presented was $2.2 million which is the cost to replace the entire sewer system and roads for our town. Then the next slide on the projector was our towns payment plan options depending upon grant money received.
I kind of felt like I had visited a car dealership to just look around and I ended up sitting at a table with a payment schedule presented in front of me. All I really wanted to know was the current condition of our sewer system. We were presented with a couple of scary ideas – like our system is 47 years old and its life expectancy is only 50 years and we can wake up one morning an not be able to flush our toilet because a main line has collapsed in the street.
Well the results of the first study have not been documented yet and the full report will be made public as soon as we receive it. The next step that has been suggested to be done is to run cameras through the sewers and look for tree roots and other possible problems. But this time there will not be any free grant money to do this and we will have to pay.
So I decided that maybe I should do some research of my own to get more informed about sewer systems. First of all I spoke with Dave Kleinsasser about our current sewer system. He says he was here when it was installed and he remembers some things. First the install was not 1967; it was more in the early 70’s maybe 1972. So that makes our system 42 years old not 47. And he says our lines used a newer technology clay pipe that is stronger and the pipes are joined together with rubber boots and not mortar. Here are some internet links that I have found giving more information about our sewer system.
The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers assumes a one hundred year service life for VCP while the Canadian National Research Council/Institute for Construction Research estimates that service life at 132 years. We believe these estimates are very conservative. Terry Martin, Seattle Public Utilities, projected an expected service life of the clay pipe in his system at between 300 and 400 years in a paper presented at the ASCE Pipelines Conference in 2008.
After I read these articles about clay sewer pipes – I feel much better about our system here in Monroe. I don’t see any reason that we should not get another 60 years out of our system. The end of our sewer system will not happen in my lifetime. But one thing that is our responsibility is to keep collecting money so it can be available in the future for our next system to be built whenever that may be. And we need to maintain the system as well. The blockage at the lagoon is high priority.
Financially here is how I see us. We have been collecting sewer money for 42 years and there is only $70k in the fund. Our city trustees have been taking money out of the sewer fund for decades and spending it. It is legal to transfer money out of the sewer fund with a 2/3 votes of the council if the funds are declared “surplus funds”. But it seems to me that if a new system costs 2.2 million dollars and you have less than 5% of that amount saved up… then how can you possibly declare a surplus? It is frustrating to think about. It is the same old screw the future generation thinking that we see in the federal government. It is our responsibility to preserve and save and invest that money! I estimate that if we can find a place to invest any amount of the sewer fund over the amount of $50,000 with a 5% interest rate and keep shoving money into investments for the next 58 years; we can accumulate over 5 million dollars. Then by the year 2072 our future leaders of the town might be able to finally declare a surplus in the fund and start transferring money out and spend freely on the town. And maybe even stop collecting sewer money. Wouldn’t that be great?