Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Very High Sewer Fee?

I recently received a sewer bill from my township and my household was charged an annual fee of approximately one thousand dollars! Could it be called the "money down the drain?"

Township of Montgomery, New Jersey has just instituted a new usage-based sewer fee schedule. I applaud the township's change that would provide fairness as well as encourage water conservation.

But the expensive part of the sewer service also caught my attention. It was about twice the water fee! That is, it costs about twice as much to get rid of the wastewater as to receive the potable water.

The sewer fee is being calculated by the township as follows:

Base Fee = $200 per unit

Usage Fee = $6.88 per ccf* of water used

* 1 ccf per year = 100 cubic feet of water per year = 2.05 gallons per day

For example, if 50 gallons of water is used per person per day (in winter and spring seasons), the annual sewer fee for a household of 4 would be 871 dollars.

Mayor Louis Wilson, quoted in an article published in the February 10, 2009 edition of Montgomery News, provided two explanations for why the sewer fee is so high in the township:

(1) The township owns and operates eight small sewage treatment plants, and thus there is no economy of scale that we could get by being part of a regional sewer system.

(2) Our plants discharge into local streams and brooks rather than into a larger river, and thus they must meet a very high water quality standard for the (treatment plant) effluent.

The Mayor's explanations are reasonable.

The township population was only 23,023 based on the 2007 census estimate. That is, each treatment plant, in average, is serving a community of less than 3,000 people. Average capacity of the treatment plants is probably only about 0.2 million gallons per day (MGD), while capacity of a regional treatment plant would be from tens to hundreds MGD. According to a State of Wisconsin survey, the sewer fee for small communities (population less than 2,000) is approximately twice that for large communities (population greater than 50,000).

With an average household of $840, the sewer fee charged by Montgomery Township is actually not very high in comparison to other small communities in the US.

Nevertheless, I need to start checking how my family could consume less water. Although consuming less water would be good for the environment, I do not expect a significant sewer fee reduction since the township would need to operate and maintain the same infrastructure, and replacing the existing infrastructure would be costly.

It would also be interesting to find out how the township could reduce the treatment cost, if possible at all. To reduce the treatment cost, control of specific pollutant sources as well as use of innovative technologies could be explored. But cost of the treatment itself, e.g., chemicals, is typically a small fraction of the total O&M cost.

Credit: The image above of "Pike Brook (Sewage) Treatment Plant" was located and cropped from Virtual Earth.

My album contains additional photos of the Pike Brook Sewage Treatment Plant and its effluent receiving water.


George Guo said...

Update from June 9, 2009 edition of The Star-Ledger:

The Township received an economic stimulus grant to upgrade (required by the State) and expand two plants: Skillman Village and Pike Brook. After this, the township plans to shut down two of its six other plants. This would be a double savings for the residents: (1) The grant of $24 millions out of a total capital cost of $35 millions, and (2) Reduction of O&M costs from eight plants to six plants.

The Pike Brook plant is about 20 years old and has reached its capacity of processing 450,000 gallons per day. The Skillman Village plant is more than 20 years old and processes 500,000 gallons per day. These two plants treat about half of the township's wastewater.

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