The city of Waterloo, Iowa is planning to fix its sewer system, but the repairs may cost residents more on their monthly bills. City Council members voted 6-0 on Tuesday to approve the master plan, which includes $73 million in sanitary sewer improvements.
The improvements will take place over the span of 15 years, and will make the city compliant with a federal court order.
Michelle Weidner, Chief Financial Officer, said the city will likely fund the project through a loan from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. The loans, she said, will likely be paid off through sewer user fees.
Weidner said the council approved a 15% rate increase back in 2015. A previous draft budget, she said, showed the need for a 5% rate increase every year for the next several years to cover debt payments.
The council had few options other than to approve the plan. The city must comply with a federal court decree that was approved in 2015 after a crackdown by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The three agencies said the city was in violation of the Clean Water Act because it failed to correct sewer shortfalls. As a result, untreated sewage was overflowing into streams and backing up into the basements of local homes.
The city agreed to settle a pending lawsuit over the violations, paying a $272,000 fine in the process. At the time, Waterloo also agreed to complete an assessment of the sewer system, increase reporting requirements and create a master plan for improvements.
The city had until the end of December to approve a plan.
The approved plan includes $18 million in projects that will span over the next five years. These projects will make the city compliant with the decree.
The initial phase of the plan includes a northwest interceptor sewer project, which will cost an estimated $7.1 million. The sewer will carry wastewater from the North Hacket Road lift station to larger mains downtown.
The plan also includes $3.6 million for the construction of a new interceptor sewer and lift station at Dry Run Creek; $1.3 million for sewer pipe lining; and $5.6 million to replace the Titus Lift Station and force main.
The remainder of the $55 million will be put towards projects that will run through 2032. The funding will help maintain the sewer system and prevent it from deteriorating to its current condition, which led to the decree.
Waterloo has spent almost $13 million on sewer projects over the last three years. City officials say they are complying with mandates at a rapid pace.
The city’s Waste Management Services Superintendent says Waterloo has thus far met all reporting requirements and has not paid any daily fines.
Waterloo’s Mayor Quentin Hart has said that he hopes the city can make the improvements and comply with the decree before we reach the 2032 end date. Quentin said the improvements aren’t just about satisfying the decree requirements. He also wants to provide residents with the “best product.”