City council learns about costs ahead for water department

Friday, April 4, 2014

By Karen Hall


After having to raise the rates last year, the City of Lewisburg asked the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service to conduct an assessment of the Water and Wastewater Department, to determine if everything was being done as effectively and as cheaply as possible. A study of the rates is also underway, and should be ready in less than 45 days.

At a work session Monday, councilmen heard about the assessment from MTAS employees Jeff Broughton and Sharon Rollins.

"LWW is well managed and operated," the report concluded, but there are problems ahead.

"You have some major challenges ahead," said Rollins. "Big and expensive challenges."

She was full of praise for the department's work force.

"Your success is because of the people you have there," Rollins said. However, operations are getting more complex and regulations getting more demanding every day, and as the current workers reach retirement age, their jobs will have to be filled by a new generation of leaders.

Lewisburg has 12 pumping stations and about 90 miles of wastewater lines, and like many similar systems, it is plagued with leaks. Ground water infiltrates the sewage pipes, and stormwater rushes down the drains into the pipes when it rains.

The new 10 million gallon tank at the sewage treatment plant, which was required by the state, should allow the city to store excess wastewater until it can be treated, except if there is a really exceptional "rain event." As long as the wastewater treatment plant is carefully maintained, and employees are kept up to date with training in its complex operations, there should not be a problem, Rollins said.

"Your sewer plant is great," she said. "You've got really good people -- be sure you keep them."

The water treatment plant, which was built in the '40s, is a different story.

"You have done so well to keep the plant operating all these years," Rollins said. "This old plant is not going to be able to go on forever. You've got to have backup equipment for all essential operations." The plant lacks the capacity to reduce trihalomethane and holoacetic acids to meet current regulations, and the laboratory space is not big enough for all the tests which need to be done.

'I'm sorry I don't have better news to deliver," said Rollins. "It's time to start thinking about the serious problems, and to plan, prioritize and fund what needs to be done."

She reminded councilmen that MTAS will help in any way they can.

"We're here to serve cities," Rollins said.

One of the recommendations at the end of the report is, "Implement water and sewer rates to pay for needed improvements," so it looks as if water and sewer rates will be going up again in the near future.