published Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Cleveland sewer rehab plan reviewed

The Cleveland Utilities headquarters is in Cleveland, Tenn.
The Cleveland Utilities headquarters is in Cleveland, Tenn.
Photo by Harrison Keely /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — An "aggressive" plan to reduce the amount of stormwater getting in and sewage getting out of the city wastewater system might require annual rate increases over the next 10 years, officials say.

Cleveland Utilities recently presented city leaders with a 10-year plan for rehabilitating the system called SCOPE-10 for "Strategic Commitment to Protect the Environment."

The program is intended to reduce unwanted water, known as inflow and infiltration, into the city sewer system. The problem typically is caused by damaged pipes and manholes or illegal downspout taps, which can flood the system with stormwater.

The SCOPE-10 plans calls for gradual wastewater rate increases, officials said. The increases would be 4 to 5 percent some years and none in others, said Ken Webb, vice president of the utility's financial division.

He said the most aggressive sewer rehabilitation plan would require an average rate increase of 2.8 percent each year for 10 years.

"At the bottom of all this is a public health issue," said Tom Wheeler, CEO and president of Cleveland Utilities. "If you've got overflowing manholes and things like that going on in your system, they've got be stopped."

Such problems can create widespread environmental and economic impacts, utility officials said. Sewage overflows and backflows can result in damaged property. Environmental agencies can order immediate and expensive overflow mitigation programs or even prohibit new sewer connections if the problems persist.

Wheeler said a moratorium on new sewer connections is the worst-case scenario because it greatly would hinder development.

"We're wanting to stay ahead of the game in a very progressive, aggressive program of keeping overflows from occurring," said Craig Mullinax, vice president of Cleveland Utilities' water division. "This plan will help us do that."

The SCOPE-10 strategy is to identify and repair the worst inflow/infiltration locations instead of all of them, according to Greg Clark, who manages the program. The process requires the investigation of the wastewater system by dividing it into a number of large sections, or "basins," and employing manual inspections, nontoxic smoke tests and video cameras to find the worst trouble spots.

Actual repair work is in its early stages, and it will cost about $5.2 million to fix or replace damaged manholes and pipes in southern Bradley County, Clark said.

City leaders questioned whether future plans to minimize flooding might complement the utility's efforts to prevent sewer overflows.

Any time the water stays within the creek banks, the better things are for the utility, Wheeler said.

The program, launched a year ago, already has undergone a major revision to accelerate its progress. After a review of the initial repairs, officials estimated it would take five years to see significant inflow reductions.

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