Chapter 8 Long Term Challenges


A photo of Harbor House at the Port of Olympia

In Chapter 1, we stated the Wastewater Utility’s mission and how it relates to the City’s overall Comprehensive Plan. While the Comprehensive Plan is being updated in 2013 concurrently with this Plan, we anticipate that the final version will include a goal substantively the same as its draft Goal GU2, which states (as of March 2013):

Reliable [utility] service is provided at the lowest reasonable cost, consistent with the City’s aims of environmental stewardship, social equity, economic development and the protection of public health.

We face numerous challenges in providing wastewater service having these qualities. At the time of the 2007 Wastewater Management Plan, we identified four key challenges: (1) limiting new onsite sewage systems, (2) converting onsite systems to the City’s sewer system, (3) prioritizing/funding sewer extensions into unsewered areas, and (4) maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Since 2007, we have taken major steps to address these four challenges; however, they along with others remain to be addressed in this and future Wastewater Utility plans.

This chapter discusses the following nine challenges that the Wastewater Utility now faces and will continue to face in the foreseeable future:

1. Existing Infrastructure

2. Onsite Sewage Systems

3. Extending Sewers to New Development

4. Sea Level Rise

5. Use of Drinking Water Resources

6. Use of Energy Resources

7. LOTT/City Coordination

8. Equitable and Predictable Rates and Fees

9. Public Education and Involvement

These challenges provide a segue to Chapter 9, which details how we intend to respond to these Challenges through the Goals, Objectives and Strategies that are the focus of this Plan.

8.1 Existing Infrastructure

Aging and maintenance-intensive infrastructure poses risks to public health and water quality.

The most prevalent sources of risk relating to this Challenge are described below. They are:

• Deteriorating mains and manholes

• Infiltration and inflow

• Lift stations

• STEP systems

• Illicit sewer connections in the stormwater system

Deteriorating Mains and Manholes

Olympia’s collection system includes about 185 miles of gravity sewer pipes and over 4,000 manholes. More than 50% (by total length) of Olympia’s sewer mains are more than 40 years old and made of either concrete or vitreous clay pipe. These types of pipe are most susceptible to structural issues such as cracking/breaking and corrosion, which leads to infiltration of groundwater and/or eventual pipe failure if not corrected.

Aging brick and concrete manholes are also susceptible to corrosion and structural failure unless repaired or replaced in a timely manner.

Given the extensive and aging wastewater system, understanding the operational and structural integrity of pipes and manholes is critical to environmental stewardship and public health as well as long-term financial planning. Effective operations and maintenance of these systems is essential. Understanding the systems through asset management techniques is necessary for improved cost effectiveness.

The wastewater condition rating program, set up in 2005 to identify and characterize both structural and operational deficiencies of all gravity sewer pipelines in the system, is approaching the end of its first round of inspections. Under the program, pipes are televised and assigned a numeric value corresponding to their condition and potential life expectancy.

Structural and operational deficiencies identified are either corrected by City maintenance activities or capital facility projects, preferably using trenchless technologies. Re-inspections are based on criteria for pipe condition and criticality to the overall system. Completion of the first round of pipe inspections is an important accomplishment of the wastewater program.

In future years, condition rating will continue for pipes according to their current condition and criticality. The older and/or more critical a pipe is, the more frequent will a video inspection occur. This condition rating system supports the identification of pipes needing repairs or replacement. In doing so, the rating system will help determine financial and resource needs.

Infiltration and Inflow

In areas with high groundwater, as well as during winter weather conditions, groundwater (infiltration) and stormwater (inflow) can enter wastewater pipes through joints, cracks and direct connections. Older pipes made of vitreous clay and concrete (mainly installed prior to 1960) are especially susceptible to infiltration. Infiltration and inflow can be substantial, effectively reducing the capacity of the pipes to convey wastewater. Sewer overflows and back-up can result. LOTT wastewater treatment facility capacity is also adversely impacted.

There are a variety of infiltration and inflow (I&I) sources, as illustrated in Figure 8.1:

• Designed inflow from storm drains into combined sewers, which carry both sanitary sewage and stormwater.

• Planned (or illegally connected) inflow from storm drains (e.g., in a parking lot), roof or foundation drains, and other sources connected to a sanitary sewer. In Olympia’s older neighborhoods many residential roof downspouts and/or basement sump pumps are piped directly into the wastewater system.

• Infiltration of groundwater into leaky sewer pipes and manholes when the groundwater level is above the pipe.

View Figure 8.1 Sources of Inflow and Infiltration

There are four main areas of Olympia that are susceptible to I&I:

• The westerly slopes of West Bay.

• The central business district, Capitol Campus and South Capitol Neighborhood.

• The plateau south of San Francisco Avenue and west of Puget Street in northeast Olympia.

• The Ken Lake area.

While there have been several projects to separate I&I from the sewer system in these areas, the efforts have been limited. This is due to several factors, including:

• Cost of separating the sewers

• Difficulty of separating sewers on private property

• Need to procure a new, permitted outfall for stormwater release

• Need to provide adequate stormwater treatment

So far, our emphasis has been on replacing leaky sewers along the west slopes of West Bay, the west portion of the central business district, and the area immediately west of Ken Lake. Using the condition rating program, we’ve also replaced smaller sections of pipeline with I&I issues in many locations throughout the service area. See also Appendix N for more information.

Lift Stations

The Utility owns 30 lift stations and operates three others owned by St. Peter’s/Providence Hospital, South Puget Sound Community College, and the Cooper Glen Apartments in the Overhulse Drive area adjacent to The Evergreen State College campus. Associated with these lift stations are 8.5 miles of force mains, ranging from 4-30 inches in diameter.

Although the Utility has a robust capital facility program to replace older lift stations, seven more than 30 years old have not been replaced or upgraded, and some force mains are older than that. Concerns regarding structural integrity and capacity of these older lift stations and force mains are similar to those described above. Failure of a lift station to operate as designed, or the absence of a generator during a prolonged power failure, will likely result in a sewer overflow.

Asset management goals and strategies of the Plan also address the condition of existing lift stations using similar criteria as the wastewater condition rating program described above. Repairs and/or replacement of elements of these lift stations, including the installation of an onsite generator at those locations without one, are scheduled as part of the capital facilities program described in Chapter 10.

STEP Systems

Because STEP systems operate anaerobically, the decay of solids in underground STEP tanks releases ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which has an unpleasant "rotten egg" smell when exposed to the air in downstream gravity sections of the collection system. Additionally, when a STEP pipe discharges into a manhole or gravity pipeline, turbulent flows aerate the effluent, converting the hydrogen sulfide into sulfuric acid. The acid is highly corrosive to the concrete and metal in downstream pipes and manholes.

While past capital projects have installed protective coatings in some discharge manholes and downstream concrete pipes to address the corrosion problem, localized odor problems from hydrogen sulfide continue. As long as there are STEP systems in service, odor and corrosion challenges will be associated with them.

Non-mechanical aerators and/or chemical filters may be necessary to neutralize odor as the effluent is discharged into the sewer system. In the southeast basin of Olympia, costly odor control equipment with chemical feed pumps has been installed to address both odor and corrosion due to STEP effluent discharges into gravity sewer mains.

Illicit Sewer Connections in the Stormwater System

Pollution occurs when sewage is discharged into the stormwater system and then into streams and other receiving waters. The two main concerns are bacteria, and the nitrates produced by sewage that can increase plant growth and reduce dissolved oxygen levels. Within our Sewer Service Area wastewater pipes may unknowingly be connected to stormwater pipes that lead to receiving waters. Over the past 10 years, our emphasis on identifying and correcting these illicit discharges has resulted in decreasing concentrations of bacteria in local streams. However, efforts to identify and correct remaining illicit connections will continue. Ongoing water quality sampling of receiving waters and video inspections of stormwater infrastructure will lead to further investigation and removal of these types of illicit connections.

8.2 Onsite Sewage Systems

Large numbers of onsite sewage systems (OSS) in urban areas threaten water quality and public health, particularly in northeast and southeast Olympia.

The presence of approximately 4,150 onsite sewage systems in Olympia and its UGA creates potential long-term risks to environmental and public health from groundwater, surface water and soil contamination. Onsite systems typically have a life expectancy of 25 years, but are often used longer. In an urban setting, they are seen as an interim form of wastewater treatment until municipal sewer service is available.

One environmental impact of onsite systems is the increasing discharge of nitrates to surface and ground waters. Nitrates, a common nitrogen-species generated by onsite sewage systems as waste decomposes, are increasingly observed in groundwater and surface water, including the City’s drinking water supply wells in Southeast Olympia. In some cases, the concentration of nitrate threatens the viability of both private and public drinking water supplies. See Chapter 4 for further discussion on the challenges associated with permitting and converting OSS to sewer.

Converting OSS to municipal sewer service helps reduce public health risks and maintain water quality in surface and ground waters. However, the conversion of OSS to municipal sewer is costly, and therefore challenging, for both residents and the Utility.

Existing and new programs to facilitate and fund conversions of OSS to community sewer are discussed in Chapter 9. These include the Septic to Sewer Program, a connection fee payment plan, capital projects to extend sewers into already developed areas, and technical assistance. Coordination with Thurston County on these and other OSS-related activities will continue under this Plan.

A related challenge is extending sewers to serve new development-both undeveloped lots in the City and undeveloped areas of the UGA-fast enough to prevent the installation of yet more onsite sewage systems. While the City does not have an extension program in place for small developments or single-lot infill homes, we intend to address this within the framework of the Objectives identified in Chapter 9.

8.3 Extending Sewers to New Development

Developing in Olympia and its Urban Growth Area requires planning for and financing sewer extensions effectively and equitably.

Municipal sewer service is the preferred method of sewage management in increasingly urban communities such as Olympia. Compared to onsite sewage systems, the various methods of conveying sewage to a regional treatment facility (e.g., gravity pipes, lift stations, STEP systems, grinder pumps) reduce the potential for public and environmental health risks. However, wastewater goals and policies may conflict with other City goals (e.g. promoting infill development) as well as residents’ financial interests.

Sewer service relies upon comprehensive and integrated pipe systems. Local topography often creates conditions that require regional lift stations or other pressurized methods of conveyance. Where lift stations are necessary, both construction and maintenance costs are high. To minimize their number, infrastructure planning needs to foresee development patterns and require lift stations in optimum locations.

The development over time of a comprehensive, cost-effective wastewater collection system requires careful and consistent planning and implementation. Coordination between various City departments, developers, and individual property owners is essential. Providing comprehensive sewer service equitably and efficiently will remain a key Utility priority and challenge.

In some cases, the City and/or Wastewater Utility may to take a more proactive role in financing infrastructure needed to support new development. Two ways we can do this is by establishing developer reimbursement agreements (also known as latecomer fees) or general facility charge waivers for a specific number of new connections. In addition, we provide technical assistance and review projects during several phases of project development.

8.4 Sea Level Rise

Sea level rise poses long-term risks to downtown; early adaptation may facilitate continued reliability and lowest reasonable cost.

The City currently experiences occasional flooding in the downtown area due to extreme high tides. Because of relatively low ground levels in some developed areas of the City, and multiple open stormwater outfalls discharging to Budd Inlet, flooding will become more of a problem as the mean sea level rises. As streets and parking lots flood, water can enter the downtown’s combined stormwater and wastewater pipe system. These flood flows could exceed the capacity of the pipes, creating public and environmental health concerns as well as affecting local businesses and the operation of the LOTT treatment facility.

Critical wastewater infrastructure, such as the Water Street lift station located near Percival Landing, needs to be protected from predicted future storm/tidal events. Our Emergency Response Plan, Asset Management Program and Capital Facilities Plan will need to account for these concerns in short and long term work efforts.

A more focused vulnerability assessment taking into account sea level rise impacts is a strategy identified in Chapter 9 of this plan.

8.5 Use of Drinking Water Resources

Water, particularly drinking water, is a valuable resource that should be conserved, not wasted.

Water is an important resource, and a basic water resource goal is to use it wisely. This is a shared responsibility of the Wastewater, Drinking Water and Reclaimed Water utilities. By reducing consumer demand for water less water must be treated to drinking water standards. Reusing water through separating out the greywater (from sinks and bathtubs) means less drinking water discharged to the wastewater collection system. Likewise, using reclaimed water for non-potable purposes such as irrigation reduces the need to use drinking water.

The amount of water that enters the wastewater collection system directly relates to the capacity, energy use and cost of existing and future downstream conveyance and treatment infrastructure. This has an impact on long-term capital facilities planning for not only the Wastewater Utility, but also the City’s Drinking Water Utility and LOTT Clean Water Alliance.

Our intent with this Plan is to implement consumption-based billing for residential wastewater billing and continue to coordinate with the other water resource utilities and LOTT public education efforts focused on water conservation.

Also, we intend to collaborate with Thurston County to implement standards for greywater reuse. There is growing recognition of the need to encourage and promote the use of greywater as a sustainable building practice, in order to conserve potable water and reduce the cost of wastewater treatment.

8.6 Use of Energy Resources

Conserving energy can help reduce carbon emissions and operational costs.

Lift stations are the primary consumers of energy in the wastewater collection system. Through this Plan we intend to complete an energy audit of the City’s lift stations and replace older diesel generators with cleaner, more efficient ones that use less energy and have lower greenhouse gas emissions.

8.7 LOTT/City Coordination

The City and LOTT, including the other LOTT Partners, need to coordinate activities to minimize inefficiencies and duplication.

LOTT and the City are jointly responsible for meeting the requirements of the NPDES discharge permit issued by the Department of Ecology, including reclaimed water and pre-treatment. Pre-treatment education and enforcement related to fats, oils and grease (FOG) and industrial discharges are of particular importance. In addition, the NPDES permit dictates City and LOTT responses to public and environmental health issues associated with wastewater spills and discharges. A number of regional water quality issues, such as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) of pollutants under the Clean Water Act, require a high level of engagement among LOTT and City staff.

Financially, we will continue to participate with LOTT in making the annual process for establishing LOTT capacity development charges and monthly rates billed to Olympia customers a transparent process.

The sewer service areas of the three LOTT municipalities meet and in some places overlap because of topography or historical events. In some cases, the efficiency of both systems may be improved by reconsidering which jurisdiction can or should provide sewer service in a specific area.

In addition, there is a need to identify and coordinate activities common to all of the City’s utilities. Common goals between water-related work groups are increasingly apparent. For example, the Wastewater and Storm & Surface Water programs share an interest in improving water quality. Similarly, Wastewater, Drinking Water and Reclaimed Water programs share common interests in water conservation. The Waste ReSources and Wastewater utilities share an interest in compostable solid wastes that are introduced into the wastewater collection system through garbage disposal units under kitchen sinks.

This Plan acknowledges the complexity of these relationships and emphasizes the need to closely coordinate both program activities and long-term capital project planning.

8.8 Equitable and Predictable Rates and Fees

Creating predictability for customers and developers is difficult in a complex environment.

An important element of utility planning is predicting Utility expenditures and maintaining a stable rate structure, including equitable rate structures for both commercial and residential customers. A City priority is ensuring a fair and equitable distribution of utility costs across the customer base. A healthy and stable utility with predictable long-term revenues and expenses supports economic growth and developer investments in the community.

This Plan includes a detailed financial analysis (see Chapter 11) that evaluates current and potential future expenditures. Based on this analysis, necessary utility rates and one-time general facility charges (GFCs) assessed at the time of construction and connection to the City’s sewer system are recommended.

The current wastewater rate structure uses volume-based rates for commercial customers, but one flat rate for all residential customers, regardless of the amount of drinking water consumed and subsequent wastewater generated.

This Plan intends to implement a volume-based residential rate structure where users of less drinking water (therefore generators of less wastewater) would be charged lower wastewater rates than users of more water. This billing structure should also help encourage water conservation.

8.9 Public Education and Involvement

Keeping customers and the community involved and informed about challenges, needs, plans and proposals helps ensure that programs and projects are responsive to customer needs and community values.

Wastewater technical and regulatory issues are complex. Resolving various concerns from the development community and both commercial and residential customers requires detailed knowledge about the wastewater infrastructure. Decisions about gravity sewer and STEP system availability and potential extensions, onsite sewage system permitting, and problem troubleshooting are financially important to those effected by wastewater policies. Code enforcement, environmental monitoring and public education on specific issues are also important. Communicating this information often requires detailed site specific interactions with customers.

With the exponential increase in use of electronic media, customer and community expectations are high concerning access to digital information associated with the Utility. Maintaining our capacity to be helpful and responsive is a key service.

Ideally we need more customer involvement in, and understanding of, how their habits and actions affect the environment, particularly as they relate to water resources. Coordination with the LOTT Clean Water Alliance on public education efforts is one strategy identified in this plan. Others include increasing the amount and type of information available through the City’s website, and actively approaching the Utility’s customer base to determine their concerns.