Aurora to increase water rates for sewer upgrades
The price of a glass of tap water or a soak in the bathtub in Aurora is likely to increase.
Aurora residents will notice two increases on their water bill come July, pending city council approval at its June 28 meeting.
The first, an average increase of $2.77 on each bimonthly bill, is a result of the city's policy of assessing water rates every two years and implementing increases between two and five percent to prevent more substantial increases, said Carie Anne Ergo, Aurora's chief management officer.
The 4.77 percent increase will cover costs of maintaining the delivery system that brings water to users, and replacing some water mains throughout the city, said Ken Schroth, director of public works.
The second increase is required because of a federal mandate to improve the combined sewer system that takes Aurora's sanitary sewage and stormwater together to a treatment plant before feeding it into the Fox River, Ergo said.
The new fee, called the "United States Environmental Protection Agency Mandated Long Term Control Plan Fee," will start at $2.05 on each bimonthly bill, if the city council approves it.
Aurora is one of 772 municipalities in the nation and 108 in Illinois with combined sewers. This type of water control system is common among industrial towns built before 1900, Schroth said, and it sometimes runs into problems during heavy rains.
When combined sewers are inundated with too much rainwater in addition to sewage, some untreated liquid can spill into natural water sources or people's basements.
In Aurora's case, heavy storms sometimes lead to overflows into the Fox River at 17 locations -- 16 owned by the city and one owned by Fox Metro Water Reclamation District. At the worst of those locations, including two in downtown Aurora and three on the city's south side, overflows occur 15 or more times a year. But at several other locations, overflows occur less than five times each year, according to Aurora's public works department.
"Making sure that we minimize overflows into the river is important," Ergo said. "It's important to the (mayor's) administration; it's important environmentally. We understand that."
Since 2005, Aurora has made $50 million in improvements to the combined sewer system, but about $120 million more will be necessary to meet standards set by the EPA, which in 1994, began requiring all cities with combined sewer systems to develop a long-term plan to control overflows.
Under the requirements, sewer systems must not overflow more than four times a year at any one location, and they must be able to handle 85 percent of the initial rainfall from a storm, Schroth said.
In 2007, the EPA told Aurora its long-term control plan would be due by April 2011, Ergo said. The city submitted its plan in March and is awaiting approval from the Illinois EPA after that agency receives input from the U.S. EPA. The new $2.05 fee on each water bill would help the city pay for the first phase of the plan -- about $8 million of projects to install new sewer pipes in some areas, separate the pipes into a sanitary sewer system and a storm sewer system in other areas, and install a monitoring system to determine when certain sites are about to overflow, Schroth said. If Aurora's plan is approved, the city will have 20 years to make the changes.
"We're going to look for areas that not only help us meet the EPA requirements, but also help minimize basement backups," Schroth said.
Two city council committees -- finance and buildings, grounds and infrastructure -- recommended the water rate increase and the new fee for the combined sewer upgrades for council approval.
Alderman Bob O'Connor said Aurora is proud to be an established, industrial city, despite challenges such as sewer upkeep.
"We're proud of the age that we are (as a city) for many reasons," he said. "But it brings many challenges with the age that some of the systems are."