Reports on smoke tests on the city of Cumberland’s sewer system and the cost of treating sewage were among the topics addressed by Cumberland City Council on Tuesday.
Matt Glass, representing the Kentucky Rural Water Association, told council he had conducted various tests in the city. A problem identified is gutters being emptied into the sewer system, increasing costs for treating water that shouldn’t be occurring.
He stressed the water from the gutters should not empty to the sewer plant, saying costs for chemicals and other plant operations increase as a result.
Glass, who conducted the initial tests at no cost to the city and in response to a dispute, said it is important residents realize it is their responsibility to fix the problems identified on private property.
“You must get the gutters off the system immediately,” he said, listing the action as his recommended top priority for immediate action.
Glass will continue to assist the city as a result of its membership in the rural water association.
The mayor said video inspection of other areas of the sewer system are needed.
Another speaker at the meeting was Adam Scott of the Kentucky infrastructure Authority. Scott said his agency funds wastewater projects across the state.
Scott said rather pointedly that “big checks to fix these problems are no longer coming” as a result of limited budgets at the state and federal levels. He stressed the importance of maintaining the integrity of the system and to keep it as cost effective to operate as possible.
He said stewardship is the best immediate response, but told council more officials from across the state are coming to KIA to borrow funds to fix or repair problems that have continued for 20 years or more.
He also said the water entering the system is needlessly driving up costs and overworking the city’s aged sewer system.
“As a council, you need to think of ways to solve these problems,” he said. “I guarantee you the wastewater system is not paying for itself.”
He cited a successful rain barrel project in Frankfort that reduced costs there.
He said in most cities the cost of treating sewage is 150 percent of a customer’s water bill.
The reason many entities decline to address the need to increase the sewer fee “is election time.”
He said council should ask if everything is being done at present to keep the system going. A new system will cost the city millions of dollars, he said.
Scott encouraged council to revisit the city ordinance on sewer, adjusting the policy to address city needs such as the prohibition of downspouts which empty into the system.
“You have to critically think about how you are maintaining the system,” he said, adding the cost to treat sewage is being subsidized by the city and the water works because the rates would be substantially higher if that isn’t the case.
He told council Cumberland is “not alone” in the current situation. Scott said KIA is working with numerous government entities on similar issues.
He stressed the city must be “proactive” in its ordinances and enforcement of the ordinances governing the sewer system, including “fats, oils and grease.”
In another matter, city residents are being encouraged when paying water bills and other fees to make checks to the city of Cumberland. The city has experienced problems with depositing checks which are made to Cumberland Water Works and other departments. The bank can only deposit the check into the account for which the check is written, said city Clerk Robin Smith.
Also, council approved a resolution extending a line of credit with the Bank of Harlan through Jan. 31 for a Federal Emergency Management Agency loan due to some delays with the project. The extension was requested by the project’s engineers.