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Tell state, federal legislators what you think

By: Joan Phillipe
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If you are a property owner in the city of Colfax, you have received the public hearing notice for consideration of increasing sewer rates. Please read the notice carefully as it provides information about why this very difficult decision was reached to raise the rates to the level that is proposed. The public hearing is scheduled for July 1. At that time the Colfax City Council will consider the proposed increases that, if approved, become effective that date. The increased fees are to cover improvements that are required by state and federal law over which the city has no control. These improvements are both to the sewage collection and treatment systems. Many of you are aware the city has been working diligently to upgrade the existing sewer treatment system. The existing sewer plant was built in 1978 and does not meet current state and federal requirements. To address these mandated improvements, the city council authorized the construction of a new tertiary treatment plant that is now under construction and scheduled to be in operation by October. In addition to upgrading the treatment facility, the city must make repairs to the collection system, most of which is nearly 100 years old. This system consists of about 11 miles of sewer pipe. We know that much of it is likely cracked which allows water to flow into the sewer system that greatly increases the amount of effluent that must be treated. These improvements are set forth in a Cease and Desist order issued in October 2007. In addition, about one-third of the city is on lift stations needed to pump sewage to gravity lines that take it to the treatment plant. These systems are also old and do not meet today’s health and safety standards. All of this is going to cost the city millions of dollars. To help offset these costs and to reduce the necessary increases to the ratepayers, the city has obtained some grant funding and secured a low interest loan to design and construct the new plant. Additional requests and applications for grant funds have been submitted and we await word as to whether or not the city is selected to receive these funds. We know the rate increases are of great concern to all of you because they are of great concern to city staff and city council as well. We are working hard to bring attention to the blight this city and many other small jurisdictions face as they implement the mandates handed down by the regional water boards under state and federal law. We know the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, the region that oversees Colfax, is keenly aware of the impact the regulations are having on cities like ours as is the State Water Resources Control Board. Even Governor Schwarzenegger’s staff is looking at these impacts. I have had the opportunity to meet twice with the Governor’s Deputy Director in Washington D.C. to bring attention to Colfax’s dilemma. The Federal Clean Water Act sets forth the requirements that must be met nationwide. Add to that other laws in the California Water Code. They are stringent, but I don’t believe that anyone expects that we should not produce clean water from our wastewater treatment plant. Many years ago, federal funds were available for the construction of treatment plants. Those funds no longer exist, or are extremely limited, making it harder and harder to financially meet the mandates. But, if we don’t comply, the city is facing huge daily fines. The laws that apply to the very largest cities apply to Colfax. With such a small population base, the cost per user is much higher for us than it is in a city that has more people to share the cost. What is needed is help in financing these projects and a longer time to meet the requirements, especially if the water being produced is of high quality, as is the case in Colfax. It is the city’s hope that you will work with us as we continue to bring attention to this very serious situation at both the state and federal levels of government. Again, your voice to your state and federal legislators is what is needed -- Joan Phillipe is Colfax’s city manager.