What is the City doing to upgrade the sewer system?

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From 2010-2018 the City of Fairhope has experienced a 41% increase in population growth affecting an already taxed infrastructure and necessitating capital improvements to ensure the safety of citizens and the environment. The current rate of growth is expected to continue, or even increase.

We want to provide a system and deliver a quality of service where people don’t have to worry about wastewater, but we do have to manage the growth and the growing pains that come with it. System rehabilitation and capacity improvements are major goals, with $8 million of the proposed Five-Year Fairhope Utilities Capital Improvement Plan committed to the sewer system.  

What is the goal of the capital improvement project as it relates to the sewer system?

The ultimate goal is to implement a plan that provides the necessary infrastructure to accommodate growth within the system, to rehab the aging infrastructure to the sewer system, to minimize overflows and the build redundancy within the system for operational purposes. With all of that done we will be able to manage the system and operate the treatment plant in the most efficient manner. We will also develop long-term planning goals for additional treatment facilities and additional treatment techniques that can be implemented 5-10 years from now, or as demand dictates these goals be implemented.

We’ll have a system that people have confidence in and will not worry with each rain event. Long term, we want a system that is considered one of the best in the state.

This is a very expensive project. Why was it necessary to take this measure?

A combination of the need to rehab the aging infrastructure and to build the needed transmission and capacity of the system, while planning for future growth. While the projected 8 million dollars is a lot of money, most of the rehabilitation work, up to 10 million dollars will be funded through Restore Act funding. We are truly blessed to receive this funding.

How did we get here?

Historically, Fairhope Utilities hasn’t reinvested money in the systems except when necessary. Continued growth has the system underserviced and in need of extreme rehabilitation from both a transmission capacity component to meet longer term needs and a rehabilitation component to combat inflows and infiltration into the system.

In the 1990’s, a 2 million-gallon storage vessel was built at the treatment plant to be used as a temporary storage facility for excess inflows experienced during rain events. Because of growth and the resulting treatment demands, that tank was utilized in the treatment process at the treatment facility. Nothing has been built to replace that vessel. The amount of system rehabilitation completed since then has not reduced the inflows in any significant way. Plus, there has been a gradual increase in base flows from 20 years of growth. We need to create a strategy to detain wastewater within the system during peak events to manage both the treatment process and the transmission capabilities for the short and long term benefit of the wastewater system.

A utility system with the growth rate that Fairhope has cannot be maintained at optimal levels without reinvestment. It is not sustainable.

What steps have been taken so far?

A Phase 1 Capacity Study for the wastewater system was completed by Goodwin Mills and Cawood, Inc.  in August 2017. That study revealed that four of the five major pump stations, as well as a significant portion of major gravity lines within the systems were near or have exceeded capacity for typical design considerations of wastewater system flows. 

The study gave us a road map of where we stand and what needs to be rehabilitated, upgraded or replaced for the portion of the wastewater system that was studied.  We are now in the design phase of the two major transmission components that need to be upgraded, with some long-term planning for flows anticipated in the next twenty years. Plus, we are looking at portions of the wastewater system, not included in the Phase I Capacity Study, to prioritize those upgrade needs. 

What are our biggest issues?

Growth and the need for rehabilitation of an aging infrastructure have contributed to one of the biggest shortfalls of the system: lack of storage within it. The lack of storage is problematic for emergency response to power failures or equipment malfunctions to many of our over 75 pumping stations. Our plant is limited in its flow-through capacity to provide the level of treatment we desire. If everything we capture during peak flow events– stormwater or groundwater that is directly piped into the sewer system from runoff – there’s a chance the plant could be overloaded. There’s also a chance the equipment we have to get all the flow to the plant will not meet that demand.

Our major lift stations are near capacity historically. Until significant improvements are made to the rehabilitation efforts and the transmission system upgrades, we will continue to get very close to the point of no longer being comfortable adding more to the system. We are working on storage techniques that provide additional detention throughout the system.

One of those techniques is during peak flow events to manage our pumping capacity with storage vessels that allow us to store excess water. And while we’re able to store it, we’re also able to provide pre-treatment, which is really to provide aeration that keeps the wastewater fresh. By keeping the wastewater fresh we reduce the organic load on the plant and improve the treatment capability of the plant.

What is next in the process?

The wastewater treatment plant is located at the north end of the Church Street. The initial transmission upgrades must start at the plant and work their way out into the system. We’re looking to complete the design of the Phase I Capacity Study of the two major gravity transmission systems serving the plant in April of 2019. The first system is located on Church Street, from the plant to Fels Avenue. The second system starts at Fairhope Avenue on Ingelside Street and flows to Fairwood Boulevard where follows Fairwood Boulevard to Bayou Circle to North Section Street and to the plant. Construction for those projects should begin in the June 2019 time frame. As these project progress, the city will look at the next tier of progression for system upgrades.

The next tier will include proposed storage facilities, as part of key lift station upgrades to detain excess wastewater during peak flow events. By capturing this flow, we can allow system flows, more vulnerable to inflow and closer to the wastewater plant at manageable flow rates, while the water in the periphery is backed up in these storage vessels.  By replacing the 2 million gallons of storage that was originally created in the 1990s with nearly 1.5 million gallons of combined storage being proposed across the city, we minimize the necessary transmission capabilities and can integrate preliminary treatment features that will benefit the treatment process. This allows the city to buy time with the rehabilitation work while we continue to work with developers who want to use Fairhope Utilities as their service provider for wastewater service. 

With these projects moving forward, our next priority will be to manage growth while we look for future treatment options. We hope to capitalize on the preliminary treatment scheme where we may have additional permitting capacity at the plant. We have discussed other options that include adding wastewater plants with treatment capabilities to produce reuse, or Irrigation quality, water. The reuse capability allows us to locate wastewater treatment plants systems near areas with a high demand for irrigation, such as the Auburn University Experimental Agriculture Station, or the area golf courses; including Quail Creek, Rock Creek and Lakewood. 

We also must consider options for Decentralized Sewer facilities. Decentralized Sewer systems are stand alone systems that can serve single developments or a cluster of single developments in a localized area. The property around the airport, where height and building restrictions exist can serve as a decentralized plant site, with capabilities of accepting sewer from as many as 1,500 equivalent residential units.

We want to provide the planning and expertise to project a path forward that will manage growth within the system and be prepared for the future treatment requirements.   

Published February 2019