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PUBLIC SEWER SYSTEMS: The High Cost of Public Sewers in Carmel Valley

Posted 6-2-2005

"Environmental regulations have required municipalities to spend tens of billions of dollars building and operating state-of-the-art secondary treatment plants for wastewater. While the price tags of the facilities have escalated sharply since the 1970s, federal contributions to help cover the cost have shriveled."

Pietro S. Nivola, August 2003, the Brookings Institution, “Fiscal Millstones on the Cities: Revisiting the Problem of Federal Mandates”

By L.K. Samuels

As an environmentally sensitive area, there is a high probability that septic tanks in Carmel Valley will eventually have to be replaced under a new City. And the cost could be as high as $20,000 per household to connect into the system, as well as additional millions spent (higher property tax bills) for new trunk, main and lateral lines, along with a new or enlarged wastewater treatment plant. And don’t forget about monthly payments for its upkeep.

With the National Environmental Policy Act (1969), the Clean Water Act (1972), and various groundwater laws and regulations, municipalities have been pressured to get rid of septic tanks. No city on the Monterey Peninsula allows septic tanks. Local areas that have come under city control were forced to cap their septic tanks and connect to the public wastewater system.

In almost every case, homeowners are responsible for paying to cap their septic tanks and connect them to the city system. Traditionally, a special sewer district is created or an existing district annexes new territory. Then a 30-year sewer obligation bond is issued which is added to the property tax bill. Next, a series of trunks, main sewer lines and laterals (branches) are installed. The owner is often given a deadline of 90 to 120 days to install the connection. For instance, Springfield, Missouri, gave homeowners 90 days to disconnect and put in a new sewer line after sewer bonds were approved.

Cost to Carmel Valley Homeowners:

The cost to connect a homeowner to a sewer lateral line can range from $80 to $200 per foot (local estimates). For instance, if a particular house is 100 feet from the lateral, it could cost over $20,000. Higher costs are due to complications. Some connections require deeper trenches to the lateral. In other cases, hilly terrain may require a pumping system (grinder pump – addition $5,000 for pump) to push the sewage uphill. Condition of the soil is a big factor. Hard rock/slate has put some sewer connections in Carmel Valley to over $200 per foot, according to a civil engineer at Carmel Area Waste Water District --CAWWD. Also, a homeowner's plumbing system may have to be modified to tap into a new sewer system.

Examples of Other Cities:

Currently, the city of Springfield, Missouri, is pressuring the remaining 6% of homeowners with septic tanks to change over. The city has adopted a policy of 100% compliance and is actively working to remove all septic tanks within city boundaries. In fact, Springfield officials have told residents that “Public sewers are recommended and often required by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources…”

In Portland, Oregon, a “Mandatory Sewer Connection Program” requires “developed properties to connect to the sewer system.” The ordnance does exempt areas without laterals, but the city is expanding the sewer system to be in 100% compliance. Further, the city is actively searching out properties that have not complied.

Conewago, Pennsylvania, passed a mandatory connection ordinance on Nov 12, 2003. The ordinance gives a “60-day notice to connect” into the public sewer system. It also requires that the septic tank be filled in. The connection fee in Conewago is $5,000.

In many cities in Southern California, connection fees are as high as $10,000. In Clear Lake (Northern California) the cost is $8,000 per lot.

Carmel Area Waste Water District covers Carmel-by-the-Sea and the mouth of Carmel Valley. The cost for a connection fee ranges from $900 to $2000, along with other permits. For the Carmel Area Waste Water District, the sewer bill is $276.00 per year. The other wastewater system is owned and operated by CAL-AM Water Company and is centered around Carmel Valley Ranch/Mid-Valley area.

Various Approaches Used to Replace Septic Systems:

In some cities, lawsuits have been filed to cap all septic tanks to improve underground water quality. In others, federal or state court orders have been issued to enforce environmental laws. The mayor, city councilmen and various special interest groups often wage intense campaigns to get a new expensive sewer system on the ballot. Usually the construction companies and bond companies that benefit from a positive vote donate tens of thousands of dollars to promote the new sewer system. Further, if a city accepts federal grant money, one of the strings often attached is the requirement for a public sewer system.

Water quality standards for waterways in the United States are becoming more stringent with each passing year. The last test of Carmel River, conducted several years ago, showed our river to be within current standards. However, the government test was taken in winter during heavy flow. However, independent tests of the river during the summer, showed relatively high levels of bacteria, nitrates and pathogens, which concerns AMBAG and California Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Last Updated: Dec 07, 08

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