By Stephen Seitz
Rutland is planning a 100-year project to make the city’s water infrastructure sustainable and easily maintained by the time it’s finished, according to Rutland Department of Public Works commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg.
Wennberg recently appeared on the cable access program “Insight,” hosted this week by Rutland Herald editor Alan Keays c and the program’s producer, Royal Barnard.
The plan has been adopted as strategy by the board and the mayor, Wennberg said. “It was done when Evan Pilachowski was commissioner. They did the analysis that shows the rate of deterioration of our water mains. It’s at a particular pace. And the rate at which we’re repairing them and replacing them is well below that. They looked at the life expectancy of the various types of pipes that we have in the ground, and some pretty disturbing things were discovered.”
Wennberg explained that about 20 percent of the city’s 107 miles of water pipes had gone well past their design lives.
“Actually, they’ve served us extremely well,” Wennberg said. “But the big water leak we had in early July on Woodstock Avenue was the oldest pipe in the city, I think 1858. That’s two years before Abraham Lincoln was elected. It was made and put in the ground by the guys who fought in the Civil War later on.”
Wennberg said the analysis done by the city showed that the city needed to increase its investment in water infrastructure improvement to meet the goal, and that 100 years would be necessary to avoid undue pocketbook pain for the ratepayers.
“The good news,” he said, “is we’re already about a third of the way there. We’re at about $350,000 a year, and we have to gradually ramp that up between 2020 and 2021, and sustain it. If we do that, we’ll be okay.”
Ratepayers would not be hurt badly by any rate increases if one of the current water bonds is paid off soon, he said.
Then commissioner Pilachowski, the mayor and the board set up water infrastructure bonds that’ll be paid off around 2020, Wennberg said. With just modest increases in the rate between now and 2020, that bond can be retired. “If we don’t lower the rates at that point, if we take the money we’re paying right now on the bond principal and interest, and we put it over into infrastructure replacement, we’re there,” he explained. “As long as the mayor and the board of aldermen honor the plan, we’ll be at a million dollars a year, and the increase in the rates will be almost imperceptible to the ratepayers over time.”
Wennberg also discussed wastewater and sewer overflows. Heavy rains earlier in the month caused several overflows into the Otter and East Creeks. He said the city sees about 30 of these a year.
Without the overflow system, Wenberg said, the situation would be much worse.
“The first thing people need to understand is, this is how the system is designed,” he said. “When this happens, it’s because it’s supposed to happen. It’s bad, but the alternative is worse. What happens is, we’ve got a treatment plant, and we’ve got plumbing that leads to the treatment plant which can handle a certain amount of water. If you try to shove too much wastewater or stormwater down that pipe, it’s going to back up. It’ll back up in the streets, it’ll back up into people’s basements. In order to avoid that, the system allows overflow.”
The state, Wennberg said, has a new draft policy intended to reduce or eliminate sewage overflows altogether. But, he added, it won’t be cheap.
“The state wants to reduce or eliminate these, and I couldn’t agree more,” he said. “People need to understand that this is going to be astronomically expensive. The cost to replumb 60 percent of the city is way more than tens of millions of dollars. If we’re going to be serious about tackling the problem, we’re going to have to be serious about the costs.”
Wennberg also discussed the coming winter, and other projects in the city. The full interview can be viewed on PEG-TV or anytime online at pegtv.com.