The City of Bingen is in the process of adopting two plans that are designed to help address city water issues, both future and present.
At a city council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 4, Mayor Betty Barnes announced that the city was looking to establish a long-term general sewer and wastewater plan, and also an ordinance that would set down an exact procedure for utility leak adjustments.
City Administrator Jan Brending said that there is currently no utility leak adjustment ordinance, and that adjustments in the past have been made on a "case-by-case basis." She also confirmed that the city's current sewer and wastewater plan is "not a comprehensive plan" and only addressed the wastewater treatment plant, instead of the entire wastewater infrastructure of the city. Brending said that the current limited plan was put into place around 1995 or 1996 to address the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant in Bingen.
Brending said that the 20-year wastewater plan would apply not only to Bingen, but to the city of White Salmon as well. The two cities must sign a new interlocal agreement in order to implement the plan. Although this has not been signed yet, Brending confirmed that the White Salmon City Council said "they want to move forward" with the agreement.
According to a Sept. 30 memorandum sent from Brending to the White Salmon and Bingen City Councils, Bingen asked engineering firm Gray & Osborne to prepare the proposal since it was the company used when the wastewater plant was expanded fifteen years ago. The proposal involves a comprehensive analysis of what the city needs to do to keep its wastewater system running smoothly over the next two decades. The engineering firms proposal will include completed evaluations of population projections, collection systems, flow and loading projections, possible ideas for capital improvements, an analysis of the current wastewater system, and other studies.
Gray & Osborne estimate that the cost of the plan will be around $231,477. Bingen would be responsible for $136,716, while White Salmon's share would be $94,761. These numbers do not reflect the costs of capital improvements that might be recommended when the study is completed, which Brending predicts will take six to eight months after the interlocal agreement between the cities is approved and the contract with Gray & Osborne is signed, slated to happen some time in November.
Brending said that this plan needs to be updated every twenty years at the minimum and should be revised sooner to account for population growth and how this effects the capacity of the wastewater system. Brending said that having a plan in place is key to obtaining federal and state funding for wastewater projects.
In addition to potentially saving the city money with a long-term wastewater plan, Bingen's proposed utility adjustment ordinance may save water customers money as well.
Although nothing is currently officially laid down, city council members discussed ideas for the proposed ordinace for approximately 40 minutes at the Oct. 4 city council meeting. Ideas were derived from other cities' policies, particularly North Bend and Tukwila, in order to draft what Brending called a "short, sweet, and simple" ordinance.
Council members and city officials discussed sending letters to customers if their water usage was alarmingly higher than the previous months. If the usage was determined to be attributable to a leak in a city water pipe, then a credit would be issued to the user's bill. If the leak came from a pipe inside the user's home, than they may not get a credit. Capping the amount of annual adjustments -- both in number and dollar amount-- was discussed.
Brending mentioned that these ideas were not set in stone and could easily change when the drafted ordinance is brought to the city council, which will happen at an undetermined future date. Brending also stated that this ordinance does not address the recently-discovered issue the city had with underbilling SDS Lumber for seven years, since that was a meter reading error, not a leak.