For many years, the revenue generated from the fees charged for hauling and treating septic tank and holding tank waste have not come close to covering operation and maintenance costs related to sewage operations in Lake Wynonah. In order to keep the sewage part of the Authority operating, a large part of the water revenues is used to subsidize sewage operations in order to make up the shortage. Because of the age of the treatment plant, costly repairs are required to maintain sewage operations in addition to the current everyday operating expenses. The PCMA Board is concerned that the need for water revenues to cover the shortfall will continue to increase and at a much faster rate.
Due to the enormous amount of funds needed to repair the sewage treatment plant and related facilities, and because the need for water revenues to cover the sewage operations shortfall will continually rise, the Plum Creek Municipal Authority Board engaged the engineering firm of Spotts, Stevens, and McCoy (SSM) to consider alternatives for providing sewage service in the Lake Wynonah community.
Note that any significant change to the method of sewer service will first require amending the Sewage Facilities Act (Act 537) Plans for the two affected Townships, including approval by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Here is a summary of the results of the study performed by SSM:
Option A. – Continue with the current method of providing sewer service but establish sewer rates sufficient to generate revenue which will cover the cost of operating and maintaining the sewage treatment plant and related facilities without using water revenues.
Based on current sewage rates, the annual projected sewage revenue is approximately $182,000. Projected annual sewage expenses are approximately $423,500, making the projected revenues falling short of expenses by more than half. If water revenue continues to shore up the sewage shortfall, water rates would have to be raised to generate about $240,000 in additional revenue for the coming year. This projection does not include any additional monies to cover water operation expenses.
A 2016 evaluation of the sewage treatment plant resulted in a list of repairs that are required to extend the life of the sewage facilities and to ensure effective treatment of the wastewater to meet State-mandated discharge standards. The cost of all associated repairs, including related non-construction costs, total roughly $800,000. It is projected this would require water rates to generate an additional $340,000 in revenue just to subsidize the operation of the sewage operations by 2019.
If water rates are not raised to cover the sewage operations shortfall, pump rates would have to be raised by about 250% or $660 for a septic pump and $400 for a holding tank pump to cover expenses. Alternately, the increase in rates could be split across the board regardless of the type of pump, and the resulting cost per pump would be close to $500.
Option B. – Continue the current practice of the PCMA pumping out septic and holding tanks, but haul the sewage to nearby wastewater plants for treatment and disposal. The PCMA's sewage treatment plant would be taken out of service.
Under this option, the PCMA would cease operating its sewage plant. Staffing would be maintained at the current level, and the pump trucks would continue to be used. Representatives from several local treatment plants were contacted to determine if there would be interest in accepting hauled wastewater at their facilities. Two facility representatives indicated they would be interested in accepting the waste.
Without a treatment plant to operate and maintain, the expenses relating to it such as repairs, maintenance, chemicals, sludge removal, insurance, and other operating costs could be eliminated. However, the cost of operating the pump trucks would remain, and there would be a disposal cost to dump at other wastewater facilities.
Annual sewage expenses under this scenario would decrease due to taking the sewage treatment plant out of service, but significant rate increases would still be required to generate enough revenue to break even on costs without using water revenues to subsidize sewage operations. Septic and holding tank pumps would need to be billed approximately $450 per pump to break even on the sewage costs.
Option C. – Discontinue the PCMA's involvement in the pumping, hauling, and treatment of wastewater entirely, and require each property owner to contract with a private hauler for pump-outs.
This option would follow the pattern used by most municipalities that have on-lot sewage disposal management programs like the one in effect in Lake Wynonah. Each resident would be responsible for contracting with an outside hauler to have a sewage or holding tank emptied, and all applicable costs of the pumping would be handled between the property owner and the pumping company.
The PCMA contacted several outside haulers in the area to determine if there would be interest in providing sewage pumping services in Lake Wynonah. Ten companies replied in the affirmative. Some of the companies provided general pumping rates, but asked to remain anonymous; if the PCMA went with this scenario, the haulers would provide pricing to be distributed to the customer base at the appropriate time. Based on the haulers who responded with rate information, the approximate charge for a septic tank pump would fall between $200 and $300 for a 1,000-gallon tank. The price for a holding tank appears to follow the same pricing for a septic tank except that a per-gallon cost would be charged for each gallon over 1,000 gallons. The per-gallon rate varied from 10¢ per gallon to 15¢ per gallon. Therefore, the approximate cost to remove 3,500 gallons of waste from a tank would be in the range of $500 to $700.
Option D. – Construct a central sewage system with treatment provided by a new PCMA sewage treatment plant or at an existing nearby treatment plant to which the sewage would have to be conveyed.
A 1993 evaluation of constructing a central sewage system indicated an estimated construction cost of $8,200,000. Using a construction cost index, the probable current project costs would be in the neighborhood of $20,000,000. This would not include the cost of constructing a new sewage treatment facility designed for a central sewage system. Also, the current location of the PCMA's treatment plant would most likely be far too small for the much larger facility that would be needed, and a new location would have to be found and secured.
Based on rule-of-thumb project cost estimations, a new treatment facility would cost approximately $6,000,000, bringing the total estimated cost to construct a central sewage system, not including securing the location to build it, to $26,000,000.
The approximate cost per current resident under this scenario would be approximately $21,500. There would also be monthly or quarterly charges to customers for the maintenance and operation of the collection and treatment systems after they're put into operation.
An alternative to this option would be to construct a central sewage system but convey the sewage to an existing wastewater treatment plant. The closest plant is the Schuylkill Haven Municipal Authority (SHMA) facility which has adequate capacity to take the projected 400,000 gpd flow from Lake Wynonah. Disadvantages to conveying sewage to the SHMA plant include distance (approximately three miles), two hills between Lake Wynonah and Schuylkill Haven (requiring two major pumping stations), and the tapping fee (currently $2,500 per residential unit) that would have to be paid to acquire capacity in the SHMA plant. The estimated project cost for pumping sewage to the SHMA for treatment at its plant would be approximately $6,000,000 – the same as what the PCMA's cost would be to construct a new sewage treatment plant.
One additional consideration related to constructing a central sewage system is the impact it might have on the PCMA's water system. Numerous breaks in existing water lines during installation of the sanitary sewers would probably be unavoidable, and repair costs would be dependent on the severity of the damage created.
Option E. – Sell the existing sewage system to another entity.
In light of the work required to repair and restore the PCMA's sewage treatment plant to proper operating condition, it is very unlikely that any other entity, whether municipal or private, would have any interest in acquiring the treatment plant in its current condition. Also, if an interested party took ownership of the sewage operations with the intention of upgrading the treatment plant to extend its usable life, it is inconceivable to believe that work could be accomplished without charging the same or higher projected pumping rates as previously discussed.
This option is extremely unlikely.
Option F. – Continue with the current method of operation as described in Option A. but upgrade the existing sewage receiving facilities with the intention of accepting septage from private haulers in order to generate a new source of revenue.
This option would not be feasible because the PCMA's sewage treatment plant in its current condition (and even if the repairs discussed at Option A. were made) is not capable of treating wastewater comprised mostly of concentrated waste from septic tanks, which is the primary type of residential wastewater hauled by private companies. Also, increased treatment costs required to handle the stronger waste might offset any additional revenue created, and the treatment cost could not be set to compete with larger capacity plants. Outside septage would have to be monitored to ensure nothing is received that would upset the PCMA's treatment process, and monitoring costs would further reduce any gain from the new revenue source.
This option is not practical or feasible.
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