The Mobile Area Water and Sewer System (MAWSS) Board of Commissioners voted to approve a $62.2 billion budget that includes a 5% rate hike for residents.
MAWSS’s statement says the budget includes a “small rate increase” and higher administrative fees. A 5% rate hike has also been proposed for 2019.
According to the statement, “The average water and sewer customer using approximately 5,000 gallons of water per month will see their bill increase about $2.25 from $55.80 to $58.05. Minimum bills – using 2,500 gallons or less – will see an increase of $1.43 a month from $29.90 to $31.33.”
The new rates won’t kick in until the start of the new year.
The board says it needs to raise rates to cover the cost of repairing aging infrastructure, prevent sewer overflows and to keep drinking water safe.
“The increases were recommended by an outside cost of service study and more accurately reflect the cost of providing water and water service. Increased rates are also being passed along to wholesale water customers, Spanish Fort and Prichard,” MAWSS said in its statement.
MAWSS estimates that the cost to repair and replace the aging infrastructure will cost “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Mobile is battling aging infrastructure, which is causing issues with sewer overflows. MAWSS says that about 40% of its sewers are over 50 years old. Some have exceeded their useful life. Cracks and defects in the aging pipes is causing overflows when it rains.
No details have been released on the extent of the repairs or the methods that will be used. If the city chooses to use trenchless sewer repair, roads will not have to be dug up. The upfront cost will be higher, but drivers won’t be inconvenienced.
In 2017, more than 23 million gallons of sewage has spilled into Mobile county.
Part of the approved budget will be put towards ensuring the county meets state regulations. Wastewater treatment facilities in Alabama will now face stricter limits on how much E. coli bacteria can be discharged into local rivers.
Standards were recently revised by the Alabama Environmental Management Commission.
Five-year permits will remain valid until they expire, but new and renewed permits must meet the new standards.
Water conservation groups have been petitioning the Commission for more than a year to crack down on sanitary sewer overflows.
Alabama as a whole has faced some bad press over its sewer problems. Huffington Post recently published an article highlighting a serious problem in rural Alabama: raw sewage.
Evidence of raw sewage can be found throughout the state, particularly in the Black Belt. The soil in this area is clay-rich, which doesn’t absorb water. The dirt is ideal for growing cotton and creating ponds, but terrible for wastewater disposal, according to Huff Post.
The land in the Black Belt area swells when it’s wet and contracts when it dries. The contraction damages pipes and the foundations of buildings.
Unfortunately, municipal sewage networks are unable to reach everyone in the Black Belt region. Conventional septic systems don’t function properly in the soil, causing sewage to back up into homes or pool on the ground outside.