Sewer bills are now out, and most are aware that a significant increase (25%) has been implemented. I would like to provide some context and explanation in the hopes of answering concerns and questions.
In June of 2012 the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ordered that all Bucks County Communities were prohibited from adding new connections to the sewer system. They would not allow any new flow into the sewer system. Flow comes from our toilets, sinks, showers, etc.
The problem they identified was “infiltration.” That is water, not from toilets, sinks and showers entering the sewer pipe. For Bucks communities, including Lower Makefield, that was from aging, cracking sewer pipes that rain water was getting into or “infiltrating.”
Why does that matter? All this additional water entering the system needs to be treated. In many instances, this was overwhelming treatment plants and even spilling sewage into the rivers. How communities would go about fixing their systems and the timeframe to do it was the discussion that took place in the years since. Lower Makefield’s plan was just approved, by the DEP, in the last few months.
2018 was the wettest year on record, and revealed our own pipes problems, as it did in many other communities. The Township must pay to have its sewage treated and those costs are included in your quarterly sewage bill. That treatment is metered or measured, meaning the more flow the more we pay. All that rain translated to more water entering the pipe and a higher bill delivered to the Township. That amount or overage was over $500,000 more than anticipated. That also translated to a need to account for another $500,000 to cover that possibility for 2019. That accounts for an overwhelming majority of the increase our ratepayers have seen (it accounts for about 80% of that 25% increase).
The Township must begin improving these sewer lines and our system this year. This work is underway, and more significantly in the coming years. Much of this work will be coating or sealing the inside of the sewer pipe to eliminate this “infiltration” (or stop the rainwater from entering). This work is mandated in every community and will be going on for years to come. This work will cost money, in the coming years, but also will be the fix DEP is mandating to protect our water systems, and eventually lead to sewer bills coming down.
The Township has volunteers and professionals, from both the Township and the Sewer Authority, evaluating options to manage these costs, to examine other options for treatment, and even to determine if sale to a larger entity makes sense. Part of the challenge in Lower Makefield is that all of these mandated improvements are being borne by about 11,800 users like yourself. Many municipalities are part of larger user groups or authorities, with at least five to ten times more users, which can lessen these increases costs because they are spread out to a much larger group. On April 3 our Board of Supervisors authorized the first phase of this evaluation by a professional company, which will analyze this possibility.
These results and alternatives will be public. They will be part of reports that will be discussed, placed on our website, and the topic of many of our upcoming public meetings.
Lower Makefield Township Manager