It didn’t start last month. It didn’t start a year ago. We were warned in 2011 when our water reclamation plant (WRP) was upgraded. “The development of a comprehensive sanitary sewer collection and conveyance management plan is an important element to consider in planning future operational and maintenance budget needs.” (Technical Memorandum 6; CH2MHILL; November 7, 2011) We’ve had no plan. CH2MHILL, the firm that conducted the 2011 review of our WRP, recommended that the next phase of the 2011 study ‘…should be to examine the city’s wastewater collection system (underground piping, lift stations, etc.) – which have been subject to overflow in recent years.”
The City of Fairhope is in one of Alabama’s most complex and diverse watersheds – the Mobile Bay Estuary. That alone is reason enough to be vigilant about and to be proactive about our waste water transmission capabilities. We must, as a community, realize the condition of the sewer system will not improve until we make it our priority. It must be our priority to eliminate overflows. It must be our priority to protect Mobile Bay. It is not enough to have an award-winning water reclamation plant. If we can’t get the waste water to the plant safely, what have we achieved?
Our priority should be options suitable for an alternative to the direct discharges of wastewater effluents into Mobile Bay. If the citizens of Fairhope can’t be supportive of the objective to protect and preserve our bay, who will?
We must ask ourselves: Where do we want to be 20 years from now? If we don’t act now, then we must get use to the idea that unnecessary sanitary sewer overflows will be a part of our everyday lives. I find that unacceptable. In 2011 we were advised to perform analyses that would be used to develop a Facility Plan which would present infrastructure improvements recommended to meet the City-endorsed short- and long-term planning goals.
Short-term improvements were those required during the next 5 years (2011-2016) and included improvements required to meet EPA redundancy and reliability criteria.
Long-term improvements were those required between 5 and 15 years (2016-2026) and included planning goals that would be assessed every 3 to 5 years to track flows and loads, to consider current regulatory environment, and to adjust the long-term improvement implementation schedule as needed. The City never endorsed planning goals.
Well, that was 2011. It’s 2017 and our waste water transmission lines are the same as they were in 2011. Meanwhile our population has grown 27% and we hook up hundreds of new homes and businesses each year. In fact, permitting to date has increased 57% since 2000. We don’t need to go into the details of our growth.
Everyone feels it every day. ALDOT is taking 181 to 4 lanes between Daphne and 104 and will possibly extend the four-lane to County Rd 32. When complete we can anticipate development along 181 to accelerate. It’s already accelerating along 104. The Comprehensive Plan completed in 2015 showed same growth pattern yet still there is no plan for sewer. Growth will not stop. Comprehensive Plan was completed in 2015 and showed same growth pattern as relate in latest study yet still there is no plan for sewer. Comprehensive Plan was completed in 2015 and showed same growth pattern as relate in latest study yet still there is no plan for sewer. We have not been looking forward. We cannot afford to continue without a plan. Our sewer system must keep pace with our growth now and our growth in the future.
From Operation Director, Richard Peterson:
“The sewer capacity study and assessment offers an insight into how the sewer system has been allowed to grow. By all indications, future growth of the system in the Point Clear area and the area east of Greeno Road has not been planned where developers are held responsible for the transmission upgrades to handle the extra sewer flows these developments bring into Fairhope. In addition to a lack of planning for future transmission needs, the system has been allowed to grow with a disregard to the standards established by the city.
Numerous subdivisions have been built allowing a low-pressure sewer system, with individual grinder pumps at each residence. The governing standards require gravity sewer as the rule, with a low-pressure sewer option allowed only when there is a defined economic hardship to the developer. Low pressure sewer systems burden the home owner with long-term operation and maintenance responsibility of the grinder pump. We must return to our standard and verify any hardships that exist with gravity sewer installations. And we must assist in the design of each development to assure we approve the best possible system in accordance with our standard.
In addition, above normal rain events, where inflows and infiltration inundate our collection system, can cause problems, such as sewer overflows and high flows through the wastewater treatment plant. These types of problems take time to assess and remediate. Fairhope must devote resources to improve the system monitoring capability (SCADA) and the equipment and manpower to continuously assess the system where annual contracts for specific types of repair are managed through this continuous evaluation process. Rain events will continue. Our system must be designed to handle these events better.”
The Capacity Study for Gas, Water and Sew Utilities conducted by Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood, Inc. (GMC)
Following is a synopsis of their findings.
GMC tells us Fairhope is “…facing a significant landmark in the life of its sewer system.” We can “…allow the system to continue to function with its current intent and convey all of its sewage to trunk lines through the central business district and old Fairhope. These major pump stations and gravity lines have reached the end of their useful life and need substantial upgrades to continue serving the residents of Fairhope.”
Further, “It is recommended that the City make the critical infrastructure improvements indicated in the report herein to continue providing quality sewer service to its existing customers. Major pumps stations and gravity lines are in need of immediate (emphasis added) attention. Investment into the sewer system is vital to extend its life.”
GMC also recommends that we develop a sewer model which then may be used to create a Sewer Master Plan that meets all the objectives of the City and provides avenues for growth.
Going forward, Fairhope Utilities will be tasked with improving the transmission capabilities of the wastewater conveyance system(s) to meet future development needs, while performing rehabilitation work on the existing collection system. Our goals to accomplish these tasks will include priorities for how to manage the treatment and disposal of our wastewater flows in the longer-term future. This should include disposal options for reuse water.
Reuse water is a wastewater effluent that meets all EPA and State standards for use in irrigation. The existing irrigation demands we might identify as suitable applications for reuse water include golf courses, the Auburn Experimental Agricultural Center and established residential developments adjacent to the reuse water transmission mains we install. To fully evaluate the available capacity for a reuse water facility, we need to collect data on the existing irrigation demand. The data will help establish both the daily demand for irrigation water, including storage needs for times when rain reduces the irrigation demand and the reuse water must be stored for future use.
There is a lot of work to be done; it won’t be cheap, but it is inescapable and has now reached the end of the road. Things will not get better unless we take the necessary steps outlined above. Fairhope citizens must understand what is at stake here and be prepared to support the city’s efforts to correct years of neglect and to protect our environment and our property values.