By Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle)

Seattle is launching an ambitious $500 million sewer system project to help reduce sewage and stormwater runoff contamination of local waterways.

The work, slated for all over the city during the next 15 years, is mandated by the Federal Clean Water Act and will mean rate increases for Seattle Public Utilitiesâ¿¿ more than 1.3 million customers beginning in 2011.

The project will include incentives for homeowners, such as an initiative in Seattleâ¿¿s Ballard neighborhood for residents to install 4,500 cisterns on their properties as part of a stormwater drainage improvement project.

The cityâ¿¿s press release is below:

SEATTLE -- Seattle has launched one of the most extensive plumbing fixes in its history -- a 15-year, $500 million public-works project to reduce stormwater and sewage entering local waterways.

The project, required by federal law, continues the vital work of restoring the Seattleâ¿¿s waters. It will also mean rate increases for several years, starting in 2011.

⿿Although the work is mandatory, restoring our waters is important to our quality of life,⿝ says Seattle Public Utilities Director Ray Hoffman ⿿In short, we believe it⿿s the right thing to do, because it enables us to better preserve the region⿿s environment and natural resources for future generations.⿝

Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) will be monitoring Seattleâ¿¿s progress to make sure it meets water-quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

The city is negotiating a consent decree with EPA and Ecology that in turn will help shape the extent of capital investments - and influence drainage and wastewater rates through 2025.

The work will affect a significant number of residents and businesses, with construction projects planned in about 15 parts of town over the next 15 years. The city is seeking advice and input from various communities, to help select specific options and minimize project impacts.

Regulators are not singling out Seattle. A number of major U.S. cities also face substantial costs as they work to comply with the CWA.

In fact, because Seattle has already made significant progress* in reducing the volume of raw sewage and contaminated stormwater entering our waterways, the cost to finish the job is likely to be much less than what some other jurisdictions are confronting. Additionally, bids from contractors are coming in 20 to 30 percent lower than expected.

Up to 500 jobs** will be supported in the Seattle area over the next five years, as a result of this work.

SPU⿿s Hoffman adds, ⿿With the tough economy, it⿿s a difficult time to launch a major capital improvement program like this, but these are necessary investments in updating the city⿿s critical infrastructure and we are committed to carefully scrutinizing costs and spending ratepayers⿿ money wisely.⿝

Along with traditional methods, such as laying new underground pipes and storage tanks, Seattle⿿s approach to reducing overflows includes use of so-called ⿿green solutions.⿝ An example is current work in Ballard to capture and detain stormwater. Incentives are available to about 4,500 Ballard households that participate by installing rain gardens or cisterns on their property. The city plans to offer similar incentives to other neighborhoods in coming years.

In addition to providing a reliable water supply to more than 1.3 million customers in the Seattle metropolitan area, SPU provides essential sewer, drainage, solid waste and engineering services that safeguard public health, maintain the Cityâ¿¿s infrastructure and protect, conserve and enhance the regionâ¿¿s environmental resources.

*It is estimated that in the 1960s, CSOs from both the city and county wastewater systems were as high as 30 billion gallons a year. The current total CSO volume from both the city and county systems is down to about 1 billion gallons annuallyâ¿¿of which the cityâ¿¿s portion is approximately 100 million gallons annually.

**Estimate based on projected labor costs to sustain the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Program between 2011-2016.

Copyright 2010 American City Business Journals

Copyright 2010