The challenge of funding sewer upgrades, fairly

Your water/sewer bill is going up in Lakewood.

This year, the average home spends about $80/month on the water/sewer bill. Within 12 years, those bills will rise to nearly $205/month based on current forecasts.

These increases are scheduled to pay for upgrades made over the past 10 years, and for a High Rate Treatment Facility planned to open in 2022.

This will significantly reduce overflow from the sewer system, but unfortunately won’t eliminate it. In order to finish the job, the city estimates that an additional $300 million in investments will be needed.

The Clean Water Act doesn’t leave Lakewood a choice about stopping the untreated wastewater that flows into Lake Erie, every time that heavy rain exceeds our century-old system’s capacity. Hopefully most of us support this goal, as well; I think everyone familiar with local history understands the importance of maintaining clean water.

This is what we should do, and under the law it’s what we need to do, in the years ahead. Our city has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to preserve some flexibility, but eventually we have to pay for this.

As a community, we need to work out ways to do so without putting the entire burden in residents’ water/sewer bills, or billing homeowners for the entire cost of upgrading infrastructure built before they even saw their home.

– – –

Affordability and fairness need to guide decisions about how we split up the bill.

One example we should consider is limiting the cost to those on fixed incomes, such as Social Security and disability. We want our city to be an affordable place to live for people at every stage of life.

We need to engage private enterprise in this challenge, with policy that encourages businesses in Lakewood to invest in green technology to push more storm water into the ground (instead of straining the sewer system). As we evaluate planned and proposed development, we need to insist on green infrastructure like bio swales & rain barrels—and on grey technology like storage basins, especially when development will create additional runoff from parking lots, e.g.

In any fair look at this challenge, Lakewood also deserves some help. While much wastewater comes from local homes and business, wastewater from our streets, US Route 6, Ohio State Route 2, and Interstate 90 may account for half of the water we’re trying to capture and treat. Each rain washes pollutants from cars and trucks, which may not even belong to residents, into our infrastructure. There is a valid claim for state and federal funds to help meet the strain on that infrastructure. We should take every opportunity to pursue that claim.

As with any major infrastructure project, meanwhile, we need to look for ways to get the most value out of the expense and disruption. One promising, specific example of this is already working in Portland, Oregon.

Portland partnered with Lucid Energy to place turbines within the city’s large pipes, to convert the energy of flowing water into electricity. Lakewood’s topography has broad similarities to Portland’s in this context. Our highest elevation is near the city’s eastern border, and the flow of water is gravity fed to our treatment facility on the western end.

Portland estimates that energy produced by this system could power 150 homes. An investment like this could help pay for upgrading Lakewood’s water/sewer infrastructure. In broader terms, effort and creativity in pursuing options like this can help make our community affordable for all.

Ideas like these are what I would like to introduce when I am on Lakewood City Council. Our city should lead the way in ideas to benefit not just the environment, but businesses and residents alike for a sustainable future.

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