One of my monikers at work is “Mr. Sewer.” That’s because before I came to my current job I spent 10 years administering federally funded grants to local governments for sewer projects.
It was in that job that I learned just how expensive it is to flush a toilet. Most folks wouldn’t know that because local politicians like to keep sewer rates low for the obvious reason: when the shit hits the fan, they will likely be long gone, so why do the right thing now when there is no immediate positive payback and a lot of backlash?
The grants ended in the late 80s and were replaced with low interest loans. Loans that would have to repaid through increased sewer rates. No more 55% federal discount on prices, if your community was large enough to get a grant. Most rural areas never saw those grants because they didn’t have enough… flow… compared to the urban areas with high populations.
You’d be surprised how many rural areas don’t have sewer. The cost of sewer requires high population density, which rural areas obviously lack. And if a community has no sewer, that precludes large commercial activity, such as a supermarket. That’s why most of the economic development projects I manage in my current job are for constructing the required public water and sewer infrastructure needed by a business to locate in a rural area.
A few years ago, a town of just under 900 about an hour from where I live built its first sewer system. There was a treatment plant, collection lines, force main to the plant, and a spray field so the nitrogen-rich treated wastewater would not be put into a body of water and create a new problem.
The town is less than 2.5 square miles in size. What do you think the cost of this system was? Keep in mind that construction took place in the middle of the recession and contractors were bidding low just to have cash flow to survive until the economy improved.
And the answer is…
The project was a relative bargain at about $18 million. Divide that by the population of 900 and that equals $20,000 per person. Do you have $20,000 for each person in your family so you can flush?
Neither did the town. But they got the deal of the millennium. Because most of the town qualified as “moderate” income (lots of retirees), my program paid for their hookup, the line going to the house from the street. (The “not moderate income” folks had to pay that cost themselves, which is about $1,500 – $2,000 including septic tank abandonment.)
But those hookups were only about $500,000. What about the remaining $17.5 million? The original plan was a combination small grant and big loan which would have to be repaid over 20 years.
But thanks to the “stimulus” (that I suspect most of them opposed), the loan was “forgiven.” Which means the whole $17.5 million became a grant. (I guess that makes them part of the 47% who depend on government rather than taking personal responsibility for their own…flow.)
But don’t shake your head. Soon, if it has not already happened, you too will have your hand out.
Metropolitan Dade County (that’s Miami) has begun public hearings required as part of a sewer rate increase process. Improvements to their aging sewer and water infrastructure (plants and lines) are estimated to cost $1 billion (yes, billion) per year for the next 12 years. (You may want to reconsider using “shit” in a way that means “worthless” because there’s very big money in it.)
If you’re interested in the details, here’s the…poop…on Miami’s problems. (Warning: not for queasy stomachs.)
Small cities are in deep doo doo too. I recently read an engineer’s analysis of the water and sewer systems of a small city in central Florida. Many of the water lines are over 80 years old and made of iron. (Would you want to drink water from those rusting pipes?)
The systems need $10 million in repairs. According to the 2010 census, that city has a population of 1,733. My math says that’s $6,000 per person. Who do you think they’re gonna call?
Next time you flush or turn the tap on, appreciate what that really costs. Because you’re going to find out soon enough. And this time, there won’t be many discounts.
Older readers may remember the TV show “The Honeymooners.” Jackie Gleason was a bus driver. Do you remember what job his best friend (Art Carney) had?
Here’s his work song: