Fairhope Standard: Gravity Fed VS Low Pressure Sewer System

At the November 27th Council meeting, a citizen spoke to gravity fed sewer system vs low pressure sewer system which is what is being installed in new developments despite the City having a standard. Let’s break through the confusion.

In December 2002, Fairhope Utilities and the City Planning Commission set the standard for wastewater collection methods in new developments. All City standards are established to provide a desired level of service for property owners that the City feels is appropriate and justified. Gravity fed sewer is the standard level of service the City chose for wastewater collection. It is our preferred method of sewer service, and the least troublesome to the customer in the long term. Our Director of Operations, who was hired for his expertise in matters such as this, maintains that this is still the best way for us to go and I support him in this effort.

Gravity sewer does require maintenance and some public awareness of the best practices for longer term functionality – proper disposal of grease, “Baby Wipes” and certain other products as well as the protection of sewer clean-outs in yards and any connection of storm water drainage system to the sewer. The gravity fed system was chosen because it delivers the most reliable service long term both for our customer and for the city.

The low pressure system may initially be less expensive but requires a grinder pump at each customer site. These grinder pumps have a +/- 5-year life span and replacement costs are born by the homeowner – every time. Despite claims to the contrary, the gravity system for most subdivisions is not any more expensive vs the low pressure system considering overall costs.

We believe the primary reason why developers install the low pressure system is because they don’t pay most of the total system costs. The homeowner pays for the grinder pump required for this system in their total construction costs. Ongoing pumping costs are included in their power bill. This system does not meet the City standards unless there are significant hardships, in the opinion of Fairhope Utilities, from a maintenance or cost evaluation.

Fairhope Utilities and the City Planning Commission worked together in 2002 and continue working together on this issue to preserve and protect our City’s future. We want to establish an Engineering Department where better mapping and long-term planning can better assist developers in their planning efforts while protecting our city’s environment. The ability to perform long-range planning for water and sewer utilities will help minimize overall infrastructure costs and decrease the overall operation and maintenance costs of these systems. Planning is predicated upon long-range land use planning where density, intensity and location of development is provided in the form of a future land use map.

Future land use planning will be a component of a new and reality-based Comprehensive Plan. By being able to project land use, our utilities can better project and plan long-range in order serve the proposed development type and density/intensity appropriately.

Fairhope Utilities must operate efficiently and effectively. We have determined that the gravity fed sewer system allows us to do that while providing the best possible sewer service to our customers. Land use planning helps our utilities to plan sewer services into the future using our standard to determine whether we can serve the site economically. If not, other plans will be made for the site. Maintaining the standard keeps costs down for the city’s utilities company and the consumer. Deviating from the set standard costs the utilities company and our consumer. You can read more about this from Water Environment & Reuse Foundation.

Sincerely,

Mayor Karin Wilson

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