Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Poo Problem and The Money Problem

With a bit more rain showing up on the radar, and the recent revelations of sewer discharges in all areas of the city, including the Southland, the issue of repairing Kansas City's aging sewers, upgrading mains and separating storm water drainage from sewage has been in the public eye. No doubt, this critical infrastructure issue will be part of the upcoming mayor's race as well.

In preparing this blog entry, I was surprised to find that there appears to be no plans to go to the voters with any bond issues or special taxes. The plan appears to be to pay for $2.5 billion of improvements over 25 years with yearly increases in the water/wastewater bills of citizens and businesses served by the Water Department. That explains the gyrations in my water bill over the past couple years! That just really surprised me--and concerns me. How high is this thing going to go? It's getting high now. In fact, this may be the factor behind the Water Department's shift from a quarterly bill to a monthly bill coming in July--so the numbers are not so appalling to the eye. My research was not extensive enough to reveal the tracking between the amount coming in and that going to be spent on repairs. I could see that if the city feels it is falling short of money and risking falling behind and getting in more trouble with the EPA (fines of over $500,000 are already levied on KCMO for sewage violations), it could go to the voters for an alternative revenue source.

However it's paid for, it's going to cost a bunch of money that's for sure. The thing is, this is money that has to be spent, sooner or later. Now, I've been down this road before. Burlington, VT situated on the eastern shores of beautiful Lake Champlain had the same problem with storm water causing untreated poo to go into local waterways. In 1984, a bond issue was brought before the people for a vote. It required a 2/3 majority to pass. It fell short--a majority voted yes, but short of the supramajority needed to pass the issue. A few years passed. In 1988, four short years later, the bacterial count in the lake was high, beaches were closed, and algae bloomed. Now, the same issue came before the voters, but cost twice as much. Thankfully, cheapskates did not prevail, and Burlington began work on its system sometime in the early '90s. The thing is it was more expensive, due to inflation, and more things to fix the second time around.

I'm not thrilled about having water/wastewater customers bear the brunt of the cost of this fix--we'll see how that works out--but this is one of those things where you just have to fix it, and the sooner you fix it, the less in the end it will cost, and the less damage will be done to the environment. It's one of those, "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later" things, like the old Fram oil filter commercials. You can see one of those after the jump, if you need your memory refreshed or have never seen one.


Anonymous said...

Seems to me there have ALREADY been bond issues to fix the mess (I think I remember 3 in the past). So, what happened to THAT money?

the observer said...


There might have been, there might have been. This topic is opaque as the sewage. I knew when I posted this that I may not have the full story or be missing significant parts of the history.

There's some info out there, but it is not very organized, and it is hard to follow. The organized information has the whiff of PR about it.

Now, doesn't that sound like an assignment for someone paid to sniff around and look for wrong doing? Like a full time journalist ? (I'm looking at you Kansas City Star.)

Just because we have to fix it doesn't mean we should be wasting money along the way.

Good comment; thanks for dropping by.


Anonymous said...

I believe a large portion of previous bond issues were used to:
1) expand the system to accommodate new development
2) upgrade treatment plants to meet new regulations
3) fix the worst situations (i.e. reduce sewage into Brush Creek, providing sewer service to areas with failing septic tanks, major sewer cave-ins and requirements to get existing sewers out of the way of road construction)

the observer said...

Anony 5:21

Thanks for the info!