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Empire editorial misses the cost of Juneau sewage

Posted: March 7, 2014 - 1:14am

I just finished reading today’s editorial, “Flush Wastewater Woes from Juneau”.

Your editorial seems to be missing the flat residential sewer charge that is in paid addition to the flat water charge.

“The study released last month calls for water rates 83 percent higher in 2023 than they are today. The increase would be spread over intervening years, but that doesn’t change the result: A homeowner with an unmetered residential bill of $26.40 per month today would pay $48.44 per month in 2023. If that boils your blood, simmer. In 1980, the same residential customer paid $19 per month for water.”

I looked back in our records and for May 1980 our family paid for 4 units of water (metered service then) = $7.97 + $11.50 for sewer + $0.58 tax = $20.05. Latest bill: Res Water Flat = $26.40 + Res Sewer Flat at $64.13 = $90.53 (plus the mandatory tax of $4.00 .... 48.00 per year for Waste Mgmt - Monthly which did not exist in 1980). Plus tax. We probably are using only two units of water per month now.

Under Public Works’ preferred proposal, the last one I heard, rates would be increased 9.5 percent for both water and sewer for 5 years (which compounds), and then 5 percent (compounded) for both water and sewer for five additional years.

It comes close to at least $167.48 in 2023, that’s a lot more than your figure of $48.84 in 2023 which is the water-only portion.

One part of my answer is: We need to start spending general tax revenue on the basics of water and sewer and not limit the cost of the system to the users/ratepayers. If this means a hit to Eaglecrest (subsidized at what I believe is about $800,000 per year), swimming pools, ice rinks, more ball fields, etc., then so be it. My family cannot afford the water and sewer charges plus the waste management tax we are already paying, let alone an almost doubling of our bill in 10 years.

The other part of my answer: Can we afford the system we have when the entire cost has to be borne by the residents of Juneau, and Juneau alone, without any meaningful grants from the federal and state governments as there were in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in regard to wastewater.

In the late 1980s or early 1990s, the city looked into getting an exemption from the EPA from the secondary treatment requirements and do primary only for at least the Juneau-Douglas plant, based on tidal flushing action in the channel. Skagway received an exemption from secondary treatment because of flushing near that city.

That didn’t work in Juneau because fecal coliform bacteria were detected at Sandy Beach after a short EPA-approved trial.

An idea that will be sure to be seen as preposterous and undesirable, if not crazy by many (I’m ready — I hope — for all your arrows, cream pies, rotten tomatoes and other malodorous debris, including sewage, you want to throw at me), is to pipe via an underwater HDPE pipeline the primary treated effluent to the body of water at Taku Inlet/Stephens Passage and release that effluent over a many square-mile area through risers from branches of that pipe. The initial costs would be high, but the costly, energy-intensive wastewater treatment process would be simplified and money would not have to be spent rebuilding that portion of the treatment plant. I don’t think the people of Juneau have the stomach to move in that direction because the EPA, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and others would have to be convinced by studies that it was appropriate and the process would need support over many years. I do believe it’s something that in the long run needs to be considered.

You can start throwing your rotten tomatoes now!

David Kent

Juneau

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