Sewer rates for residents and businesses in the City of Moab will be raised 10 percent starting Tuesday, July 1 to help cover increasing costs and upgrades needed for the wastewater treatment facility. [Photo by Lindsey Bartosh/Moab Sun News]

In advance of improvements to the Moab City wastewater treatment facility, and to help cover the increasing costs of running the facility, the Moab City Council, at its meeting on Tuesday, June 10, approved a 10-percent increase to sewer rates for all Moab residents and businesses.

“The rate increase is needed to pay for the upcoming upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant and to qualify for low-interest loans,” city manager Donna Metzler said. “Current revenues are not sufficient to pay for needed upgrades.”

The wastewater treatment facility, which has not been upgraded since 1996, requires upgrades to meet state and federal guidelines as well as to keep up with the use by a growing Moab community.

“The plant is in need of renovations or replacements to the existing plant components to meet discharge requirements and to increase capacity,” city engineer Rebecca Andrus said. “The improvements are to comply with state and federal regulations as well as to increase the capacity of the plant necessary to keep up with the growth of the community, primarily commercial growth in town. We also need to plan for the proposed USU campus and associated sewer needs.”

Andrus said that while there are indications of water conservation occurring in the Moab area, these efforts do not solve problems with excess waste water.

“We’ve actually seen an increase in the strength of the influent to the sewage treatment plant, which indicates that water conservation is occurring,” she said. “However, this does not lessen the requirement to treat the waste in the water. The only way to lessen the future waste requirements is to stop people from coming to Moab. Moab’s plant is a regional plant that treats all of the waste generated by Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency (GWSSA) and is expected to treat the flow that is generated by any growth in the Spanish Valley portion of San Juan County, unless San Juan County decides to build their own plant,” she said.

The wastewater treatment facility is also one of the largest consumers of water in the area, Andrus said.

“The (facility) is one of the highest water users in the community because we actually have to add water to dilute the strength to make it treatable using the current trickling filter process. One of the considerations of the upgrade to the facility is to determine a treatment method that will treat stronger influent without having to add as much water,” she said.

Having recently toured the wastewater facility, City Council member Heila Ershadi said the facility is definitely in need of renovations, but she would like to see the plans include both economically and ecologically friendly changes.

“Personally, I’m hoping there will be the opportunity to do something creative that is both cost-effective and ecologically beneficial,” she said. “I can’t speak to the feasibility of any specific option, but I’ve been looking at some of the things other municipalities are doing, and I think there are some great options to explore.”

Ershadi said one option she is researching more is the possibility of adding the wastewater to the wetlands. She said this option has been looked at in the past, but it will take more work to see if it is feasible.

“One simple thing would be to run the treated water into the wetlands, which would keep them more consistently wet and increase fish populations, which could help out the birds as well as suppress the mosquitoes because fish will eat them before they hatch,” she said. “But to be able to do that, the ammonia level needs to be lower and we’d have to be sure we wouldn’t be dumping too much nitrogen or anything else in there.”

Other plans Ershadi has seen include pumping clean, treated water into rivers and creating fertilizer from the solids.

“A great example of what other municipalities are doing is the treatment plant in Austin, Texas,” she said. “They use aquatic plants and wetlands to put clean water back in the river, and an anaerobic tank to purify the solids, which are combined with lawn and yard clippings to make Dillo Dirt. This is sold as a fertilizer, and used in the parks and schools. The tank traps methane gas, which is used to power the plant. It is an EPA award-winner.”

The plans for upgrading the plant are still being worked on as part of the wastewater treatment facility master plan, but the plan should be completed near the year’s end. Andrus said that once construction starts, it should take about three years to complete.

“The exact methodology for the improvements has not fully been decided yet,” she said. “That decision is part of a wastewater treatment facility master plan that should be completed before the end of the year.”

The estimated costs for the entire facility upgrade are around $7-to-10 million, Andrus said.

Sewer rate increases will likely be needed for several years to help cover the costs of upgrade. Last year, the council voted for a 5-percent increase to rates. This year, the increase was raised to 10 percent.

“The 10-percent increase was considered a reasonable amount for people to absorb in a given year,” Metzler said. “The increase will amount to about $17.75 per year for the average household. The average household will pay about $197 per year for city sewer services.”

Since GWSSA also pays fees to the City of Moab for wastewater, residents outside of Moab city limits in Grand County will also see an increase to their sewer rates.

Metzler said that even with the increase to the fees, Moab residents still pay some of the lowest rates in the state of Utah.

“Grand Water and Sewer’s residential rate is $22.66 per month while this increase brings the City of Moab average residential rate to $16.40,” she said. “Grand Water and Sewer residential customers pay approximately $272 per year for sewer services, a rate that is about 38 percent higher than the city’s rate.”

The sewer rates charged by the City of Moab also assist in determining the interest rates the city can receive on loans from the State of Utah. The state expects sewer system users to pay a reasonable rate to cover sewer services, but this rate should not exceed 1.4 percent of the Median Adjusted Gross Household Income (MAGI) for the area. According to the 2010 census, the MAGI for Moab is $32,620. The current sewer rates for the City of Moab bring them to only .57 percent of the MAGI.

The sewer rate increase will go into effect Tuesday, July 1 for Moab City residents. Changes for sewer users on the GWSSA will be the following month.

“The plant is in need of renovations or replacements to the existing plant components to meet discharge requirements and to increase capacity.”

 

Increase needed to offset rising costs, pay for upgrades