Forgive us if you're reading this while dining, but the topic is sewage. Also, money.
Specifically, how to get the most bang for the half-billion bucks that Lexington residents and businesses will be paying to fix the leaky system that carries away the nasty stuff we'd rather not think about until it backs up into our basements, when we can't think of anything else.
Heavy rains also send raw sewage spilling into Lexington's creeks and streams, which is why the city, like others, is under a U.S. court order to clean up its act.
One of the thorniest challenges will be sewer overflows that arise on private property.
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The idea of sump-pump police is not terribly appealing. But neither is the prospect of having to pay more because sump pumps, downspouts and drains are flooding the sanitary sewers.
(Sewer 101: The sanitary sewer system moves the nasty stuff to treatment plants where it's "sanitized" and released into waterways. The storm sewer system carries away rainwater. The twain are never supposed to meet.)
Lexington is facing this expense because we have a big mess. When a downpour hits, rainwater infiltrates and overwhelms the sanitary sewer system, sending raw sewage spewing at 111 manholes and pump stations, and also into basements.
The plan for cleaning up this mess is due at the Environmental Protection Agency in October.
The city has the option of rebuilding the system to withstand a two-year, five-year or 10-year storm. It's been clear for a while the choice would be the two-year standard because of cost — an estimated $540 million financed over decades and raising sewer fees 5 to 10 percent a year for 14 years, just to meet the minimum.
The council Tuesday confirmed its choice of the two-year standard, meaning the system must be rebuilt so that 3.2 inches of rain can fall in a 24-hour period with no sewer overflows.
Mathematical modeling predicts that in a five-year storm (3.8 inches in 24 hours) there would be 13 sewage overflows. Not perfect, the reasoning goes, but way better than 111 overflows on a routine basis. And it would be much cheaper to pay a few thousand dollars in pollution fines every few years than to spend an additional $175 million to meet the higher standard.
While the overhaul will be a massive undertaking, it boils down to getting the rainwater out of sanitary sewers.
That will require repairing and replacing pipes. The city must also figure out how to redirect sump pumps and gutters because doing that is much cheaper and more effective than excavating and replacing sewer pipes or building storage tanks.
The city has no ordinance allowing inspectors to enter private property to examine sump pumps. And many property owners don't know where their sump pumps flow.
In some older neighborhoods, there will be no good alternative until storm sewers are built because disconnecting sump pumps from the sanitary sewers would flood streets and yards.
For years, the city has helped property owners pay to properly connect sump pumps and gutters. But response to the voluntary program has never come close to addressing the problem.
Council member Bill Farmer is heading a committee that's looking at the private property question.
The important point to remember is that it's in everyone's financial interest to make sure rainwater is going where it's supposed to go, even if its costs us a little privacy.