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$7 million NCC sewer system to improve water quality/Lowering overflows will cause sewer rates increase - Community News

$7 million NCCo sewer system plan aims to improve water quality
Lowering overflows likely to cause rise in sewer rates over next two years

By Jesse Chadderdon
Community News
Last update Sep 24, 2008 @ 12:37 PM

Wilmington, Del. —
New Castle County plans to spend $7 million over the next three years on preventive maintenance for its 1,600-mile sanitary sewer system after being fined $100,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency for overflows.

The program will cost $1.45 million this year and the County Council will vote October 28 on whether to authorize that transfer from the county’s $13.2 million sewer reserves. In each of the next two years, however, officials said sewer rate increases would be necessary to fund the rest of the program.

State and federal environmental officials are requiring the County to adopt the comprehensive program to ensure it stays within compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Tracy Surles, the acting general manager of the county’s Special Services Department, which oversees public works, said it was too early to determine the size of the fee increase. She said the increase would also be affected by the outcome of an arbitration case over how much the County should pay annually for use of Wilmington’s sewage treatment facility.

But in his budget address last March – given before the arbitration was on the horizon – County Executive Chris Coons said the increase would likely average $10 annually per household next year. Coons cautioned then that a preventative maintenance program was coming, calling it crucial to the county’s environmental well-being.

The Environmental Protection Agency-outlined program seeks to address long-term maintenance issues throughout the system: clearing large trunk lines of debris, removing tree roots that have grown through sewer lines, controlling corrosion and eliminating fats, oils and greases from the system.

The County also wants to enhance its closed-circuit television monitoring of the system, which allow it to view problems as they form.

The ultimate goal, Surles said, is to meet the federal mandate of closing the last sewer outfall to the Delaware River by December 31, 2018.
Located near the Stoney Creek Pump Station in Claymont, the outfall acts as a release for the system when it becomes overburdened with rainwater during large storms. It’s there as an emergency, officials say, so pipes don’t burst under pressure, but at the end of the day, it’s also adversely affecting water quality in the area.

Sewer engineer Rob Roff said the county’s existing trunk line maintenance program focuses on older subdivision collector systems, but said the new program would allow crews to expand their efforts to smaller lines and spots with a history of trouble. He estimated crews would inspect and clean nearly 18 miles of trunk lines over the next three years.

“Trunk lines used to be considered self-cleaning because of the volume of flow, but now they’re older and with the operational issues they face, that’s not the thought anymore,” Roff said.

Also critical to the maintenance plan, Roff said, is root control.

Over time, the joint materials between sections of piping are prone to penetration by nutrient-seeking roots. Often times, root nets form within the pipe, creating blockages and backups. Roff estimated that 25 percent of the sanitary sewer overflows experienced by the County were caused directly by root blockages.

An aggressive chemical root control plan could help eliminate roots for up to three years, at the cost of $1.70 per foot, Roff said. He estimated 213 miles of piping could be rid of roots during the three-year program.

Surles said another prong of the program would focus on reducing the amount of fats, greases and oils that clog up the sewer system. In addition to regularly applying grease eating bacteria at “problem” locations throughout the system, Surles said the County would also step up its inspections of restaurants, apartment complexes and other large produces to ensure they are obeying disposal guidelines.

Efforts to control corrosion by eliminating Hydrogen Sulfide from the system will also be a priority, as will increasing system inspections using closed circuit television cameras.

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