From Left Field

    Okay, no ranting. Been done here before on the same subject. More than once. And, obviously, it does no good. So let's try to hold down the anger, the fury, and the cussing, to say nothing of the ^#$@*&* blood pressure. (Oops.)
    But it's tough to come away from one of these city council meetings — the ones where they have to burden people with higher fees due to a mandate or a boondoggle like the Legislature's tax caps — without spitting and sputtering ... and getting @*&&^%$#+# angry. (Oops again)
    So now here we are. Sewage rates are going to go up, quite possibly as much as 50 percent over the next three years, because the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), pushed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is making more demands on this city's Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). M-O-R-E.
    This has been going on for years, and this city — read that, rate-paying residents — has spent probably $15 million or more in order to comply with all of IDEM's wishes. And the demands just keep coming.
    As City Attorney Tim Baker said Tuesday night, one knows that more demands will be flowing down the pike some day soon — more costly demands.
    In the ol' nutshell, here is a basic description of what's going on. Combined sewer systems are sewers that are designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. Most of the time, combined sewer systems transport all of their wastewater to a sewage treatment plant where it is treated and then discharged to a water body.
    During periods of heavy rain, however, the wastewater volume in a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the system or treatment plant. Thus, the combined sewer systems are designed to overflow occasionally and discharge excess wastewater directly into nearby streams, rivers, or other water bodies.
    In Decatur, that excess would flow into the St. Marys River. Several years ago, maybe as many as 10, IDEM said the overflows had to be reduced. The Isch Administration spent a lot of money to do just that.
    A few years later, IDEM came back and demanded further reductions. Done. Now IDEM is back knocking on the door again, wanting more reductions. More, more, ever more.
    When this all began, it was hard to argue with getting a lot of the storm/sanitary water out of the St. Marys. Now, though, we're at a point in which, due to the past projects, it almost never happens. Maybe once or twice a year — maybe never in an entire year.
    IDEM calls it a "10-year event."
    So Decatur residents are going to be saddled with another huge jump in sewage bills in order to prevent something which may — M-A-Y — happen once a year. And if it does happen, the untreated water is going into a river which is usually two and a half feet deep and already full of pollutants from ongoing farm field runoff. We're not exactly dumping that untreated water into a pristine lake which is used heavily for recreational purposes.
    A bit of an odd note in all this is that Decatur is far ahead of most cities, having started CSO reductions years ago. Many other Indiana communities, like Fort Wayne, are just getting started. And the reward for the efforts of the Isch and Schultz administrations to cooperate and get the job done? You'll be seeing it soon on your sewage bills.

More big blues
    One other thing. You know that big blue tank built a number of years ago off Jackson St. near Steve Lytle''s barbershop. Well, you're probably going to be seeing at least a couple more of them.
    The city has spent a lot of money is the past year or so to reduce overflows, such as sealing leaky manholes. But there is no way, not ever, one city official said, that rain water can be kept 100 percent out of the sanitary system.
    So this latest project will see the city build two more of those tanks, or maybe three. In a heavy rain, the overflow will go into those tanks and be held until it can be  slowly handled after the storm has subsided.
    The cost? The estimate is $1 million per.
    • The 42 homeowners who are mandated by the county health department to get rid of their septic systems and are being given the option of tying into the city sewage system should be appreciative of the fact that Mayor John Schultz and city council is going the ol' extra mile to put forth a helping hand.
    The city is going to borrow enough money to do IDEM's bidding and also to provide new sewer lines for the folks who want to join up. It's going to cost the homeowners big time, but it may be their only option.