How much sewage do Bloomington utilities customers generate every year? About 2.57 billion gallons. Lake Monroe’s capacity of about 77.14 billion gallons could hold roughly 30 years worth of Bloomington’s sewage.
Bloomington’s sewage is not piped into Lake Monroe, of course. It goes to one of two wastewater treatment plants—Blucher Poole or Dillman Road. These days the Dillman Road facility often operates near or even over its rated capacity of 15 million gallons a day.
It’s a situation that caught the attention of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) recently, in 2016, and two decades ago, in 1999. IDEM sent “early warning” letters to Bloomington noting that the average daily flow through the plant, measured over the course of a year or more, was approaching or over 90 percent of the rated capacity of the facility.
So Bloomington’s utilities director, Vic Kelson, will be appearing in front of the city council on Wednesday (Sept. 11), to lay out the case for a sewer rate increase, to help pay for needed improvements to the city’s two wastewater treatment facilities.
Councilmember Andy Ruff at the Aug. 20, 2019 departmental budget hearings (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Utilities director Vic Kelson at the Aug. 20, 2019 departmental budget hearings (Dave Askins/Beacon)
On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s utilities director Vic Kelson presented the city council with a proposed $1.7 million for water main replacement as part of the department’s 2020 budget. He described how that would pay to replace roughly 2.5 miles of pipe.
During the time for councilmember questions, Isabel Piedmont-Smith responded to the 2.5-mile figure by saying, “That does sound like very little.” Piedmont-Smith’s assessment was based on the roughly 420 miles of pipe in the system, and the frequency of recent high profile water main breaks.
At a press briefing on the Friday before the week of budget hearings, Mayor John Hamilton said the pace of water main replacement was not fast enough, because pipes don’t last as long as it will take to replace them all—if the current pace of replacement is maintained. About the 2.5 miles per year that has been budgeted for the last few years, Hamilton said, “That’s way better than it was five years ago, but is not good enough.”
At Tuesday’s city council session, utilities director Vic Kelson put the possibility of increasing the pace of water main replacement in the context of a possible rate increase. The current residential rate for City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) is $3.73 per 1,000 gallons with a monthly $5.89 charge for a 5/8-inch meter. Any proposal for an increase in water rates has to be presented to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Bloomington’s rate case to the IURC is planned for 2020.
Not counting any of the half dozen water main breaks in July, the city of Bloomington has tallied 44 breaks so far in 2019.
Is that a big number? Yes, based on the number of breaks over the last six years that are logged in the dataset posted on the city’s B-Clear data portal.
The 44 breaks in 2019 so far, through the first six months of the year, are at least 12 more breaks (37 percent more) than in the first half of any of the last six years. So this year looks like it could be on course to match or exceed the 88 breaks tallied in 2016, which is the biggest number for a whole year since 2013.
Causes for breaks recorded in the dataset include ground movement, defect in the pipe, improper bedding, a contractor, temperature changes, and water hammer, among others. Water hammer is a sudden increase in pressure caused when the momentum of all the water flowing in a pipe is brought to a sudden stop.