Aging sewer plant causing Christiansburg rates to be adjusted

Photos by Marty Gordon
The Christiansburg wastewater treatment sits on 30 acres, just outside town limits on Crab Creek Road, and has not undergone any major upgrades in the past 16 years.

Christiansburg’s wastewater treatment facility has an aging infrastructure, and needs improvements to maintain continued quality of service. But this will not come without a price as town residents are facing rising sewer rates in the near future.

Infrastructure at the town’s wastewater plant is showing signs of age, corrosion and even rust.

The total planned upgrades to the treatment facility and sewer system is estimated to cost $23.5 million over the next five years.

Town council has struggled with this matter for over six months with over 10 different options being placed on the table. They have now chosen an option that will increase the numbers slightly instead of a drastic chunk in one swoop.

This comes at a time when the town is also facing a rise in water rates, adding fuel to the discussion for residents who have been outspoken on any increase.

The proposed sewer rates would rise to $15 for the minimum per month in 2017 with rate per extra 1,000 gallons of $8.50. But in the following fiscal year, customers would see a major shift.

In FY18, the minimum rate would actually fall to $9 while the rate per extra 1,000 gallons of water would be $10.25, providing an incentive for conservation.

Already council has been talking about a similar rate structure for town water rates. The typical use of a 1,000 gallons a month would see a decrease while those over 2,000 gallons would see a slight increase.

The shift in water rates is in direct correlation to an increase in the amount the town would have to pay for water from the Montgomery County authority. Both Blacksburg and the county are facing similar situations as the authority cites an aging infrastructure at its own plant on Peppers Ferry Road.

Christiansburg town staff say the sewer rate increase will fund projects that improve the disinfection system, increase efficiency and sustainability, modernize wastewater treatment equipment and create a safer working environment.

Machinery including pumps at Christiansburg’s wastewater treatment facility are showing signs of age and wear.

The town currently has one of the lowest sewer rates in the state.

Melissa Powell, Christiansburg’s public information officer, provided information that current residents using 4,000 gallons of wastewater currently pay about $32 per month with the lowest in the state being $10.44 and the highest at $74.20.

The proposed rate increase means residents using 4,000 gallons would play $39.75 per month—a 24 percent increase.

Upon a tour at the wastewater treatment facility earlier this week, visitors could see the age of the facility that was renovated in 2000 and has not seen any major upgrade since.

Ryan Hendrix is the wastewater operations superintendent. He pointed to a software system that inessentially runs the wastewater plant and its pumping system that was installed in the year 2000.

“We need an upgrade in our software and operating systems,” he said.

Outside the operations center, a lot of equipment shows signs of run from corrosion associated with the wastewater operation. “It does happen, and we have to upgrade and replace to keep up with the demand on our system,” Hendrix said.

There’s a plan to install new System Control and Data Acquisition software, commonly known as SCADA. Hendrix said this software would be key in monitoring the wastewater system in the near and far future.

The wastewater plant sets on 30 acres just outside the town limits, and according to Hendrix, wastewater equipment generally as a useful lifespan of 15-20 years. Now the facility is need of several upgrades on the physical side of things.

Yes, the town has to make certain amount of replacing and/or replacing on a normal basis, but nothing like it needs now.

“We have an aging infrastructure, and when you’re dealing with wastewater, you will have corrosion. And corrosion causes problems,” Hendrix said.

In the bigger picture, Christiansburg is one of only a few localities in the entire country that still have their own wastewater treatment plant.

“We also need to make necessary repairs to stay ahead of things when dealing with federal regulations on how water is treated,” he said.

Hendrix pointed to the fact that the Christiansburg facility is looked upon in a very good light when it comes to keeping up with those federal regulations.

Next year, a major upgrade is proposed for the plant’s UV-disinfection facility. Again Hendrix said, that is needed to continue to provide a quality service to the residents of Christiansburg.

An official vote on the new rates is expected at council’s next regularly scheduled meeting on June 13. This is the same night council will hold a public hearing on the upcoming Fiscal Year ’17 budget. Within that budget is the new rate structure and the proposed first year of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the wastewater facility.

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