Tonawanda News

May 14, 2010

Sewer system upgrades coming down the pipe

By David J. Hill
The Tonawanda News

— — Thanks to stricter federal mandates, the City of Tonawanda will be spending a substantial amount of money within the next few years to make upgrades to its sewer systems.

City Engineer Jason LaMonaco briefed the mayor and Common Council on upcoming sewer projects during an informal session earlier this week.

“We’re probably going to have to bond some serious money in a couple of years,” he told city leaders, noting that new requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency are placing stronger limits on the amount of storm sewer overflows municipalities are permitted to have during wet weather.

The problem, according to DEC, is that stormwater runoff can transport pollutants into nearby waterways.

The city, however, isn’t alone in having to spend money to upgrade its systems. Those same federal requirements, which are overseen by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, have the Town of Tonawanda undergoing its $60 million Parker-Fries Interceptor project. Big cities across the nation, such as Indianapolis and Washington, D.C., are spending massive amounts to improve their underground systems. “It’s everywhere,” LaMonaco said.

City officials aren’t too pleased with the potential cost associated with the new requirements. “It’s going to be crippling,” Common Council President Carl Zeisz complained during the meeting. “For a lot of families here, they can’t even afford a hundred dollars a month for flood insurance and (DEC is) going to raise their sewer bill a hundred bucks a month?”

Zeisz said the city’s overflows were relatively fine up until a few years ago. “Then all of a sudden, you know what hits the fan and we’re dumping way too much into the system. It doesn’t make any sense to me, how the flows got so much greater.”

“They’re holding us to a whole new goal,” LaMonaco said of the state and federal agencies.

In December, LaMonaco submitted to the DEC a work plan detailing how the city will address its storm sewer system. The DEC will review the proposal, then establish a time frame for the work to be done. The city will be divided into five sections, with the most problematic areas — Millstream and Delawanda — being hit first.

“We’re probably not looking at the first actual construction project for another two years,” LaMonaco said.

Two key issues will have to be addressed — inflow and infiltration. Inflow is the water that is dumped into the sewer system through connections, such as a sump pump. Infiltration is groundwater that seeps into the sewer system through cracks in the pipes.

While the costs are likely to be “substantial,” LaMonaco said “there is not a dedicated funding source that helps us with this.” The city will try to secure grants and low-interest loans to help alleviate the cost.