With higher sewage rates in place for about a month, Cranberry already is anticipating the need for yet another. It's due to a combination of increased demand on the wastewater treatment system and more stringent environmental regulations.
"No one likes to pay more for services, but this is the climate we've got to operate in. It's the price of doing business," said Cranberry manager Jerry Andree.
The township announced in August that sewage rates would increase to $7.16 per 1,000 gallons of water used during a bill period -- an increase of $1.49 per 1,000 gallons. The average monthly cost for most households in the township increased from $35 to $43 per month as of Aug. 23.
The rate increase was needed to prepare for a pending upgrade to the Brush Creek treatment plant on Powell Road.
The plant, which treats sewage from 10,000 residential and business customers, is permitted to treat 3.5 million gallons of sewage per day. While that's enough capacity for today, the average daily flow of sewage to the plant is expected to exceed capacity within two years.
The township anticipates expanding capacity by a million gallons per day to 4.5 million gallons. The price tag for that project would be a minimum of $18 million to $20 million -- with the operative word being "minimum," Mr. Andree said.
"In reality, we could end up facing costs of double that," hesaid.
Not only is Cranberry facing a steadily rising population, it also is anticipating changing environmental regulations, the first of which involves a state Department of Environmental Protection requirement that the treatment plant be capable of treating inflow from even the worst of storms.
The state allows the township to essentially bypass a portion of the sewage treatment process during heavy storms because of several factors: the diluted nature of the inflow, that the inflow still is undergoing about half the usual treatment process and the fact that tests of discharge from the plant into the Brush Creek plant show that permit regulations are being met, despite the abbreviated treatment process.
Mr. Andree said DEP will no longer allow this "blended" discharge.
"We have to be capable of treating the heavy inflows. During a bad storm, our peak flow could hit 10 million gallons [per day]," he said. One option is to construct tanks capable of collecting and holding the inflow, then discharging it into the treatment facility after the storm.
Building a treatment facility with the capacity for 10 million gallons of sewage per day when such an event happens only about twice annually is cost-prohibitive, Mr. Andree said.
Changes in federal standards are expected to percolate to the state level, he said. Known as Chesapeake Bay standards, the limits for phosphorous and nitrogen being discharged into streams and rivers are being reduced. Those new standards are not yet in effect, but Mr. Andree said planners are facing a dilemma about whether to expand in a way that anticipatesthem.
"Do we spend more now to avoid future costs, or do we wait and see what happens?" he said. "There are major policy issues to weigh.''
Mr. Andree said the township has launched a major educational campaign to explain to residents what is on the horizon. He said officials have been careful to warn that the current rate increase and the projected project costs are "minimums." More will be known after planning, engineering and permitting work is done. These soft costs are expected to amount to about $2 million.
Among the considerations is whether the current treatment process will be altered. There is hope that new technology exists since the plant's last major upgrade, when $2 million in odor control devices were installed.
"There's a lot that's up in the air right now,'' Mr. Andree said. "We're looking at everything. It's a pretty impressive process we're going through."
A design is expected to be complete by early next year with construction to follow in mid-2014. The upgraded plant will be on line by the end of 2015.
Built in 2001, the plant costs about $2.2 million to operate. When the plant was built, the township shifted to a treatment process that would produce sludge that was expected to have a beneficial reuse.
But that process turned out to have problems, including occasional odor that sparked complaints from neighbors. Also, the sludge is being placed in landfills because no one wants to buy it.
Karen Kane: firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-9180. First Published October 10, 2013 1:51 AM