Get best out of sewer investment

Nothing will make the reality of a sewer fee increase go away.

In August, the entire Urban County Council will hear a detailed presentation on proposed fixes to our broken sewer system and what they will cost.

One way or another, fees residents pay for sewer service will rise over the next several years to cover a bill that will be a half a billion dollars or more.

The city is compelled to do this under a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sued us over violations of the Clean Water Act. But more importantly, this is work that has to be done so Lexington can prosper and its residents remain healthy.

Kentuckians seem willing to argue all day about the long-term impact of toxins released by burning coal, but you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who will argue over the health downsides of having raw sewage in your basement or rushing down your streets and sidewalks.

There are, however, some things that could give Lexington more bang for its buck. The cost of the sewer upgrades are tied to whether we're building capacity for storms that come on average every two, five or 10 years. The greater the storm we protect against, the higher the cost.

But here's where we have some control over our fate.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions that businesses and individuals make will affect this system. A lot of what were once considered "extras" or environmental feel-good decisions could increase the value of what we build.

Smart zoning, pavement that allows water to seep through rather than rush off into storm drains and ditches, water gardens, green roofs, plantings along streams — all of these could relieve the burden on the system and so improve the return on this huge investment.

When the Urban County Council's Environmental Quality Committee met Tuesday to hear about the sewer upgrades, members talked about the need to educate people on this complex, costly but essential service.

Public education must begin with decision makers at city hall, and so the committee wisely took a good first step on that front by voting that the next meeting to consider these issues, on Aug. 23, will include the entire council.