Most people don’t give a second thought to what happens after they flush a toilet or their washing machine goes into the spin cycle.
But deciding where the resulting wastewater should be treated in the future is a looming decision for Fredericksburg officials. And, no matter where it ends up, city residents are likely to see a 10 percent increase in their water and sewer bills next fiscal year.
Fredericksburg treats some of its wastewater at a city-owned plant off Beulah Salisbury Road behind Dixon Park. It dates back to the mid-1950s, and has been upgraded twice, most recently in 2009–10.
The facility, which can treat up to 4.5 million gallons of wastewater a day, needs to be decommissioned or upgraded in the next five to 10 years, Assistant City Manager Doug Fawcett told City Council after a tour of the plant Tuesday.
The influent pump station there will need to be rebuilt so it can continue sending wastewater to a Spotsylvania County facility for treatment. The estimated cost of the rebuild is $17.1 million spread over fiscal years 2023–25.
Fawcett said that five options for where to treat the city’s wastewater have been considered, and the best would be to continue partnering with Spotsylvania County.
All flows from the Fredericksburg Wastewater Treatment Facility and the county’s FMC Wastewater Treatment Plant would be sent to the plant at Massaponax for treatment. That facility would be expanded, and the city’s plant and the FMC plant would be decommissioned.
Fredericksburg diverts about 1 million gallons per day to the FMC plant, which was built in the 1930s just downriver from the city’s plant. It can treat up to 4 million gallons per day from both the city and the county, and needs to be either upgraded or decommissioned. Fawcett said that Spotsylvania has decided against an upgrade.
The Massaponax plant was constructed before 1980 and upgraded in 2001. It has a capacity of 9.4 million gallons of wastewater per day, and can handle the city’s and county’s flow currently going to both it and the FMC plant. It has the capacity of being further expanded to handle up to 32 million gallons per day, but that’s not being considered for anytime soon, Fawcett said.
The city’s total wastewater plant costs are estimated to be almost $65.7 million spread over fiscal years 2019–25, Fawcett said. That includes $31.3 million for its share of expanding the Massaponax plant, $15 million for related collection system improvements, $17.1 million for the rebuilt influent pump station, and $2.25 million for decommissioning the city’s plant.
“These are the best current numbers,” he said. “These numbers will likely change as contracts are awarded if, in fact, contracts are awarded for consolidation.”
The city is also facing the cost of updating the Motts Run Water Treatment Facility, which opened in January 2000. It can treat 12 million gallons of drinking water per day. The city has a reserved capacity of 5 million gallons per day and Spotsylvania has 7 million.
The facility was built so it could be expanded to double its capacity. Spotsylvania is talking about doing that expansion in two parts, with a 6 million gallon expansion in the immediate future, with another 6 million gallon expansion at a later date.
Preliminary engineering is expected to cost $125,000 this year, with construction costing an additional $13.3 million over fiscal years 2020–23, Fawcett said.
The city has the right to take up to 2 million gallons of additional capacity, for a total of 7 million gallons at a price of about $2.5 million per million gallons. No decision about a recommendation by staff has been made, he said.
City Councilman Billy Withers asked how much water the city uses now. Martin Schlesinger, the assistant director of public works, said it’s normally about 3.5 million to 3.6 million gallons per day. Fawcett added that it can go as high as 4 million gallons on a hot day.
“There’s a scenario under which the city could say we don’t need it now, we don’t want any more capacity in this next $6 million expansion, that we want to reserve our right to take 1–2 million in the next expansion, which could be a decade out,” Fawcett said.
The city would still be responsible for the rehab portion of the project, said Deidre Jett, the city’s budget manager.
Fawcett said the city is working with Spotsylvania on getting the costs down and spreading them out.
The city hired Municipal & Financial Services Group to study the city’s water and sewer rates, and make recommendations. Michael Maker, the firm’s senior manager, told the council during Tuesday’s work session that the study’s guiding principles and objectives included ensuring that the water and sewer systems are self-supporting, that fees charged to new customers pay for growth-related projects and debts, that the utility should maintain reserves, and that rates should be kept as low as possible over time.
The study proposed a 10 percent increase in fees for water next fiscal year and a 5.5 percent annual increase in fiscal years 2021–24, and a 10 percent increase in sewer charges next fiscal year and a 12.2 percent increase annually over the same time span. He said he didn’t recommend doing a big increase all at once because rate payers would complain.
Median users, which the study defined as those using 6,700 gallons of water bimonthly, would see their total water and sewer bill jump from $81.52 now to a proposed $89.79 in fiscal year 2020. That’s still lower than Stafford, Spotsylvania and Prince William counties, among others around the state, Maker said.
The study also recommended maintaining the current availability fees of $3,000 for water and $5,000 for sewer per residential connection, and then increasing them by a cost index each July 1.
City Manager Tim Baroody recommended that City Council vote on raising the fees for 2020 when it votes on his proposed $100.4 million general operating budget for fiscal year 2020, and waiting on the next increases until it has a firm idea of how much the water treatment and wastewater plants’ improvements will cost.
The first vote on the budget will be April 24 and the second and final vote will be taken May 14. The budget goes into effect July 1.