By Ralph Pokorny
Nevada Daily Mail
Most of the lines of the city on Nevada's sewer system are between 50 and 75 years old; and except for some recently installed plastic pipe, the system is made up of 3-foot sections of clay tile, or, in some places, a product referred to as orangeburg, which is little more than pipe made from tar impregnated wood fibers.
There are problems all over town with the sewer lines, City Manager JD Kehrman said.
The problems stem from a lack of maintenance over many years to both the main sewer lines and the interceptor lines that carry the city's sewage to the treatment plant.
The interceptor lines are made of corrugated metal pipe that sewage has corroded in many places.
"We haven't done anything for 27 years," Kehrman said.
Sewers are one of the three primary infrastructures a city has, and they require repair and maintenance just like water lines and streets.
"We dealt with the water and we dealt with the streets. Now it's time to address the sewers" he said.
And unlike the city's streets and water mains, the sewer system, as well as what it discharges into area streams is regulated by both state and federal regulations.
"Non-compliance in sewers can bankrupt a town," he said.
In Nevada's case, the wastewater treatment plant discharges into a stream that has been designated for whole body contact, and that makes the regulations for discharge into Little Drywood Creek and the Marmaton River basin more stringent.
When it's time to renew the permit for the city's wastewater treatment plant, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources will have new requirements in place that must be met prior to renewal.
The current plant cannot meet those requirements without updates at an unknown cost.
"We know they've talked about this for a long time. It's time to stop talking. It's time to start doing," Kehrman said.
One of the reasons for the lack of maintenance has been a lack of money to pay for it, a problem stemming from the fact that the rate the city charges residents for sewage service is less than half of what it costs the city to operate the sewer system.
City Treasurer Mike Wade told the city council at a recent meeting that he had researched the cost of providing sewage service, and currently the city charges its customers $1.60 per 1,000 gallons; but it actually costs $3.85 per 1,000 gallons to treat the sewage.
"For 27 years the rates have been artificially low. Now we're paying the price," he said.
"We need to get the rates in line with what it costs to treat the sewage. We need to narrow that gap as much as possible," Kehrman said.
The city's water and sewer funds are supposed to be funded by the money generated by the water and sewer operations, not supported with money from the city's general fund.
The first step in that process is expected to come during a special city council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 23, when the council will likely be presented an ordinance to raise the city's sewer rates a small amount. A 10- to 20- percent increase has been suggested as a first step.
Kehrman said that Alliance, which has a contract to operate the city's water and sewage systems, has identified a number of deficiencies in the sewer system, which has generated a considerable number of projects waiting to be done.
"We have the projects, but no funding," he said.
So the city is looking first at doing those projects that are easy to do and do not cost much to accomplish.
As for the major projects, like the interceptor lines which will cost several hundred thousand dollars, the city is in line to receive grant money in 2013 to tackle some of the big ones.
He said there are several projects like the interceptor lines that are too big for the city to tackle and will have to be done by outside contractors. The same will apply to those locations that will require trenches that are 15 or 20 feet deep, something the city does not have the equipment to undertake.
"We need to do this every year until the sewer lines, like the water lines, are 80-percent replaced," Kehrman said.
Kehrman said the city will need to get into compliance with the bond covenants for the SRF funding and start funding the various reserve funds that were required to finance the projects the way city did.
"Not funding the obligations, that's foolishness and will not be allowed to go for too long," he said.
"We've also got to future proof the city against these EPA and DNR mandates. We can't constantly be reacting to them," he said, adding that the city needs to get into a position to negotiate with them for workable solutions to these problems.