Sewer rates across the city of Lowell, MA will rise by about 20 percent after the City Council voted unanimously to borrow $50 million to upgrade the cities aging sewer system that pollutes the Merrimack River.
In Lowell's sewer system, parts of which date back more than 100 years, sewage and drainage water flow through the same pipes, overburdening the Duck Island sewage-treatment plant during heavy rains.
Lowell dumps about 360 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Merrimack River every year.
An order by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has emissions cut to zero. The federal government has not devoted any funding to solve the problem, known as a combined sewer overflow.
"No one likes to raise rates, but we must raise the rates," City Councilor Rita Merciewas quoted as saying in Lowell Sun. "But this is an unfunded mandate by the federal government. Having said that, I guess it's time we take the vote."
"The only way to pay for it is by raising the rates," City Councilor Edward "Bud" Caulfield added. "It's a very serious issue that we must put a stop to."
The annual bill will increase to from $245 to $290, for the average homeowner. Sewer bills are paid quarterly. The increase will show up on the next bill due at the end of the year.
The total cost of eliminating combined sewer overflows stands at more than $100 million, the $50 million project approved by the City Council this week focuses on the area that needs the most attention, the Warren Street drainage area.
Preliminary design on the project should be completed by the end of the year. Construction, subdivided into five or six smaller projects, should take about seven years to complete. Warren Street is being addressed first because it's the discharge point, into the Concord River just upstream from the Merrimack River, that's used most frequently during periods of heavy rain. By updating the sewer system in that section, the city will cut its annual total discharge into the Merrimack River by half.