Launch Slideshow

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Success in the sewer

Success in the sewer

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    Top: Inspections showed that nearly all of Reno's large-diameter sewers that were 60 years of age or older were at or near failure. Left: Crew workers weld and install a bypass line that will temporarily carry sewage while the large-diameter interceptor below undergoes rehabilitation using a cured-in-place pipe process.

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    With nearly all of the concrete eaten away and a gaping hole in its side, virtually all that is left of this 60-inch-diameter concrete-reinforced interceptor pipe is its badly corroded rebar.

SHOW THEM THE PIPES

In all, officials estimated it would take 10 years and investments of $21 million to $23 million per year to rehabilitate or replace the backlog of pipes already at failure, as well as to rehabilitate those that would come of age during that period. The question now was, how to finance such a large program.

Meetings of the city's sanitary engineer, public works director, finance director, and their staffs concluded that the revenues would most appropriately be raised through an increase in use fees and hookup costs.

Reno residents and businesses had long enjoyed relatively low sewer rates, compared to other parts of the United States. A typical single-family homeowner, for example, paid approximately $19.40 a month in sewer use fees in 2004. Still, public works staff wished to raise rates only as much as needed to ensure the system would remain functional, and free of collapses and health threats.

A rate study was conducted to develop rate increase alternatives, which were presented to the Reno City Council in May 2005. The approved recommended alternative included a 25% use fee increase the following year, followed by a 4% annual increase each of the next nine years. Under the new structure, the average single-family homeowner would pay monthly use fees of approximately $34.50 by the year 2016.

Connection fees for new homes also increased under the proposal. Initially, these hookup fees would rise by nearly 40%, from $3125 to $4321, with smaller additional annual increases each of the next nine years.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Fortunately, the rate increase team had thousands of pictures they could use to help convince the council and their constituents of the program's urgent need. In addition to providing the city the information it needed about its sewers' condition, the new digital CCTV system told the story of the collection system's grave condition in a way that non-engineers could easily understand.

The communications effort worked. Following public hearings and testimony, the rate increase passed with little objection and went into effect October 2005.

In Reno's next fiscal year, which begins this July, the Sanitary Engineering Division will have a budget of $19.5 million for sanitary sewer collection system rehabilitation and replacement. It will use those funds on a wide range of priority projects employing CIPP technology, pipe replacement, and pipe bursting.

The largest project currently underway is an $8.5 million project to rehabilitate more than 7 miles of large-diameter (up to 60 inches) interceptor sewers that the city owns jointly with neighboring Sparks, Nev. The city also is completing a $4.6 million cut-and-cover project to replace large sections of deteriorated small diameter sewer. Similar projects are planned for 2006–2007.

Once the 10-year program is complete, will the city return to its $2 million per year sewer repair budget? It's not likely. Recognizing that collection system components have a 50-year-life, officials project that the city will need to rehabilitate or replace 2% of the 700 mile and growing system each year. In current dollars, that translates into $15 million in annual expenditures.

Reno is far from alone in its need to bring its collection system back up to par. Other cities nationwide are playing “catchup” as well. New inventory tracking systems and better rehabilitation solutions make the process much easier. But it also takes commitment and foresight from the city's leaders to protect the value of one of the city's most important—and often overlooked—assets.

But as the city of Reno is now discovering, investments in a collection system pay long-term dividends and create fewer short-term aches.

— Jones is senior civil engineer for the city of Reno. York is business development manager for Insituform Technologies, Wickenburg, Ariz.