On a different thread about pot holes, questions was raised about the city’s handling of basic maintenance of the city’s infrastructure.
In response, Alderman Deb Crossley described the work that’s being done to put together a long term maintenance plan for the city’s crucial, but mostly invisible, storm drain/sewage system. I thought this probably deserves its own thread, so here’s Alderman Crossley’s overview.
Ald. Fuller and I have been working with the administration for three years now on restoring Newton’s very old and leaky underground plumbing systems – 300 miles each of water, sewer and coming up next – stormwater mains and infrastructure. We are now in the second year of implementing a strategic plan to restore the water and sewer systems, which plan was crafted in the first year. A power point on the city website is still a good primer on the challenges we face and the solutions proposed. http://www.newtonma.gov/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=40846
The goals are to continue to provide reliable clean water and wastewater systems, and to get to a point of “predictable maintenance” – so we are not managing in crisis response mode. For the sewer system we must prevent clean rain water from entering the system – called infiltration or inflow – now comprising well over half the flow we send to MWRA. We all pay for this. And because our city has about 75 miles of underdrains connected back up to the sewers – in rainy months this can cross contaminate storm water draining to the Charles. So the City is in the process of disconnecting city mains from underdrains, cleaning and relining the mains to keep groundwater from infiltrating the main. Relining is a cool process where – working manhole to manhole – a cementitious sock is pushed through the pipe, which quickly hardens creating a ‘new’ pipe – about an 80 year fix. We divided the city into ten project areas prioritized by worst to best condition. Construction in project area 1 is more than half complete – and have advanced the overall program schedule to be done within ten years.
Part of the clean water in our sewers is the result of”inflow” when clean rain water is deliberately drained into the sewer system – via sump pumps draining into sinks, roof leaders or driveway drains connections. State and local laws prohibit this – though many homeowners were unaware of the condition. Over the last year the city has notified all (about 700) cases identified, many have been corrected and engineering is working with folks to help craft solutions to others.
We have also just recently appropriated funds to complete a thorough assessment and strategic plan to repair and possibly upgrade the stormwater system, which work should be done by next winter. Turns out we have much less good data on this system – but we know we face capacity issues and can see the poor condition at the outflows.
Repairing our systems proactively has already paid dividends as MWRA has rewarded the city with lower rate increases that other MWRA communities, two years in a row. But the bigger incentive is as we continue to reduce the I&I in the system – the volume of sewer flow is significantly reduced AND emergency repairs will be significantly reduced.
Our rates are paid into three separate enterprise funds – and law prohibits using one fund to pay for maintenance or repairs in another. So the strategic plan is based on a financing scheme that gradually raises rates (about 3.9%/year) to pay for this much needed work – as well as aggressively capturing any and all MWRA or other grant opportunities that might come our way. We barely have enough in the stormwater fund to clean the catchbasins – not frequently enough – so a good part of rate restructuring will be to get more funds into that pot.
This is one of the most critical projects the city has undertaken in recent years – we have learned a great deal and are committed to the follow through.