Jackson could soon have a $20-million boost in the arm to address sewer main breaks across the city.
The Lumumba administration is planning to issue a $20 million state revolving loan to repair some 180 sewer main failures across the city.
Interim Public Works Director Charles Williams said the breaks are a major source of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and must be addressed as part of the city’s sewer consent decree.
“When I say it’s an issue, it’s a big-time issue for us,” he said.
Williams said there are approximately 180 sewer failures across the city, including a large number in Northeast Jackson, Fondren and Belhaven.
“A requirement under the decree is to reduce the number of SSOs from occurring,” he said. “One way we can help address that is to make repairs in the collection system.”
Williams wasn’t sure exactly how many failures were located on the Northside, but said they’re pretty evenly dispersed across the city.
“We’ve mapped out every single break in the city. We know where they area,” he said. “No precinct is experiencing more problems than the other.”
Breaks were mapped out based on the city’s four police precincts. The Northside precinct, Precinct Four, runs from East County Line Road to Fortification Street, and from the railroad tracks at North State Street to the Pearl River.
The $20 million should allow the city to repair most, if not all, of the existing breaks, depending on the severity of each. Williams said many line failures can be repaired by lining the existing pipes with materials that cure-in-place, a procedure that would be less expensive than having to replace an entire line.
“If we’re able to correct these failures, it will minimize the SSOs that are occurring in the system,” he said.
The loan would be paid back with revenues from Jackson’s water/sewer enterprise account, over a 20-year period.
Williams hopes to have the loan in place early in the 2021 fiscal year, which begins October 1.
“Everything has to be submitted by October 1. We have to do a resolution and that will be coming at the next council meeting,” he said.
“That will be for the mayor to submit the application to MDEQ (Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality). Once that’s done, the application will be reviewed and, at some point, the city will be notified whether the application is approved.”
The next council meeting is September 15.
The loan would be coming through that agency’ state revolving loan program, which provides municipalities with low-interest loans to tackle certain environmental and compliance projects.
The funds would be used to address as many of the city’s known sewer main failures as possible.
Williams estimates there are approximately 180 failures across the city.
The failures include main collapses, such as the one near the intersection of Ridgewood Road and Sheffield Drive, as well as clogged lines.
When lines collapse, untreated sewage leaves the collection system and enters the environment, sometimes entering into nearby streams and tributaries.
When lines get clogged, sewage backs up out of manholes and other openings, also getting into the environment.
Under terms of its sewer consent decree, the city faces fines when untreated wastewater enters streams and other waters identified as waters of the U.S.
“In each precinct, we have areas that will be cleaned, and televised and we’ll do point repairs,” Williams said.
He said public works is also planning to bring on a contractor to clean out lines, in an effort to cut down on the overflows.
That contract will be paid for out of the city’s sewer budget.
Factors causing overflows include infrastructure failures and clogged lines, Williams said.
Many of the city’s sewer lines are 40 to 60 years old and are past their primes.
“When certain residential developments were occurring, a lot of concrete pipe was installed. At the time, we didn’t have the research talking about how the gases would impact the integrity of the pipe over time,” he said. “Now, we’re seeing the impact of that.”
Clogged lines are often the result of grease and sanitary wipes being flushed into the system.
“Grease is the number one factor,” Williams said. “When people pour their grease down the sink or flush it down the toilet, once it gets into the system it gets hard,” he said.
That grease then combines with sanitary wipes and other materials to form “fatbergs.”
These fatbergs clog lines and cause untreated sewage to back out of manholes, Williams said.
Of the 70 SSOs the city reported to the EPA in its July 30 quarterly report, 34 were caused by grease, fats and solids, while 15 were caused by collapsed lines.
The city entered its consent decree in 2012. Under terms of the agreement, Jackson was given 17.5 years to bring its sewer system into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.
At the time, consent decree-related costs were expected to run around $400 million. Today, the expenses are estimated to cost as much as $945. Costs have risen as the sewer system continues to deteriorate.
The administration is currently working with EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice to renegotiate terms of the decree.