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Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

More Rate Hikes Not Needed for Sewage Repairs

More Rate Hikes Not Needed for Sewage Repairs


Staff Writer

San Diego businesses will likely be spared additional rate increases to fund sewer improvements, despite a recent federal ruling ordering the city to strengthen its efforts to clean up sewage spills.

Instead, rate increases already approved by the City Council will fund the improvements, said Scott Tulloch, director of the Metropolitan Wastewater Department.

Approved in October, the first of four 7.5 percent increases went into effect March 1, with more increases scheduled for March 2003, 2004 and 2005. After that, the wastewater department would have to go before the council to justify any increases, Tulloch said.

At issue is a Finding of Violation and Order issued April 5 by the Environmental Protection Agency. The notice requires the city to repair multiple breaks in its sewage system which caused 1,535 spills between 1997 and 2001 , a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Tulloch predicted the city would not face any new short-term costs as a result of complying with the order. The wastewater department had already anticipated these costs when it applied for the rate increase last year, he said.

In fact, many of the EPA requirements build on programs which are already in place or are under development , a fact acknowledged by the EPA in its order, he said.

However, it’s possible the city could face additional costs down the road, since the EPA order will be in effect for about 10 years, Tulloch said.

The city will have a better idea how much money it may need to spend once it finishes a preliminary project in the summer of 2003. Wastewater staff has been running a robot camera through about 1,000 miles of sewage pipes, or a third of the city’s system, he said.

Aging Pipelines

These pipes are more than 50 years old, and the video surveillance will help the city determine how much of it will need to be replaced or repaired, Tulloch said.

Tom Huetteman, chief of Clean Water Act compliance for the Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9, said city officials are already working to solve the problem.

The EPA took action against San Diego to stress how serious its sewage spills are. Among several Southern California cities, San Diego had a remarkably high ratio of spills to miles of sewage pipes, Huetteman said.

Also, it usually takes cities a long time to forge agreements to clean up sewage spills. The April 5 action was meant to speed up the process and make sure the city’s intentions are put in writing, he said.

“It makes those commitments a little firmer, and they’re enforceable,” Huetteman said.

Huetteman added the announcement was not a surprise to San Diego, since the EPA had worked with the city in drafting the finding. Wastewater staff had expected most of the “big-ticket items” in the order as it worked on its new rate structure last year, he said.

The EPA order will be in effect for about 10 years, possibly until April 1, 2012. The EPA could make the ending date either earlier or later than that, depending on the city’s success at cleaning up spills, Huetteman said.


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