Q. What do we need to do to improve our sewer and stormwater system?
A. Indianapolis has sewer infrastructure needs that are county-wide. For the sanitary sewer system and sewer overflow projects, we need approximately $400 million in capital revenue over the next three years. To improve flood control and drainage we need another $35 million for new capital projects. Our capital needs include:
Q. Why do we have raw sewage spilling into our streams?
A. Indianapolis' sewer system is antiquated and can no longer handle the amount of sewage and rainwater that flows through it. During dry weather, sewage flows safely through the sewers to our wastewater treatment plants. However, as little as a quarter-inch of rain causes raw sewage to overflow into our streams. The sewers were built this way 80-100 years ago before there were wastewater treatment plants. This was common practice in many U.S. cities, especially in the Northeast and Midwest.
Q. Why were our sewers built this way?
A. More than 100 years ago, Indianapolis built a sewer system to carry rainwater and melting snow away from homes, businesses and streets. This was standard practice at the time. When indoor plumbing came later, homeowners and business owners hooked their sewage lines to the storm sewers, combining stormwater and sewage in one pipe. During dry weather, the combined sewers carry sewage to the city's treatment plants. However, when it rains or snow melts, the sewers can be overloaded with incoming stormwater. When this happens, the sewers are designed to overflow into nearby streams and rivers. If they didn't have this escape valve, raw sewage would back up into people's basements and streets. Today, we build separate sewers for stormwater and sewage.
Q. What are the harmful effects of raw sewage overflows?
A. Raw sewage in our streams is a health hazard, smells and looks disgusting, hurts our environment and harms the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Sewage overflows are a major cause of pollution in White River, Fall Creek, Pleasant Run, Pogues Run and Eagle Creek.
Q. How can we reduce raw sewage overflows to our streams?
A. The city has a long-term plan to reduce sewer overflows over the next 20 years. It will:
Q. When will you start to fix this problem?
A. We have already begun. The City of Indianapolis has already spent more than $200 million to keep raw sewage out of our waterways, especially near parks, schools and neighborhood streams. Already, we've reduced annual overflows by more than 145 million gallons.
Q. How much will my sewer rates increase?
A. A sanitary sewer rate increase will be phased in over the next three years. The average homeowner using 5,400 gallons per month will see his monthly bill increase from $9.59 today to $12.38 in 2006, $15.17 in 2007 and $17.96 in 2008. New or increased fees will also be assessed on new developments and new connections to the sewer system. In addition, there will be a $1.00 per month increase to the $1.25 stormwater utility fee. The stormwater fee will appear on Spring property tax bills and the sewer fee will appear on water/sewer bills in January 2006.
Q. Will these be the last rate increases needed to pay for the city's plan?
A. No. Regular sewer rate increases will be required every year for the next 20 years to finance the projects required by the state and federal governments.
Q. How much will sewer rates cost at the end of the 20-year plan?
A. Long-term sewer rates are very difficult to predict because of rapidly changing regulatory requirements and higher-than-average inflation in the construction industry. Current projections show residential sanitary sewer rates in 2025 will be around $55-60 per month, based upon 2005 dollars.
Q. How do Indianapolis sewer rates compare to other cities' rates?
A. Indianapolis sewer rates are low in comparison to other cities of our size and other cities in Indiana. Indianapolis residential customers pay $9.59 per month, based upon the average home using 5,400 gallons. Stormwater utility fees now equal $1.25 per month for residential properties. According to a rate survey conducted in 2005, comparable rates in other cities were higher than Indianapolis' rates. See the chart below.
Q. What are the new sewer connection fees and what are they for?
A. A new $2,500 sewer connection fee will be charged per equivalent dwelling unit (EDU). Single-family housing will pay $2,500 per unit; industrial and commercial connections will pay a proportional amount based upon meter size. This fee will require new connections and new developments to help pay into the sewer system that has been built by others before them.
Q. I am a first-time home buyer. Will the sewer connection fees make new houses in Indianapolis less affordable?
A. These one-time fees are comparable to similar fees paid in surrounding communities, so they shouldn't significantly affect the competitiveness or affordability of Marion County housing. It is only fair that new connections and new developments help pay into the sewer system that has been built by others before them. Here is a comparison of Indianapolis connection fees with other nearby communities in Central Indiana and with similar cities in surrounding states.
Q. What benefits will come from the Clean Streams-Healthy Neighborhoods Plan?
A. This plan will help many neighborhoods suffering from the sights and smells of raw sewage in their streams and with flood control and drainage problems that threathen life and property. Some 18,000 properties now on septic systems will have access to city sewers without having to pay the cost of sewer construction.
Q. Will the long-term solution completely eliminate all raw sewage overflows?
A. No. At the end of 20 years, overflows will be reduced dramatically from today's 45-80 storms each year down to 0-10 storms. Actual frequency will depend on the weather, but only the largest storms will still cause some overflows. Also, overflows will occur when streams are flowing fast and people are not likely to be exposed to raw sewage. The city's goal is to develop an affordable plan that will focus dollars on projects that will do the most to improve water quality and protect public health.
Q. Will the stormwater utility increase eliminate flooding in Frog Hollow, Ravenswood and all other neighborhoods?
A. No. The stormwater utility will help improve drainage and flood control in many areas, but it is not possible to eliminate all neighborhood flooding. The city will continue to invest in maintenance improvements in the Frog Hollow and Ravenswood neighborhoods, but their location in the flood plain of the White River makes future flooding an inevitable way of life for those residents.
Q. I don't fish or swim in the White River and don't live in the inner city. How does this program benefit me?
A. Projects are needed throughout Marion County, not just in the inner city. In addition to our long-term plan to reduce sewer overflows, we must extend sanitary sewers to neighborhoods now on septic systems, improve drainage and flood control, upgrade our treatment plants and provide more capacity in our separate sewer system outside the old city limits. Although the sewers are sometimes "out-of-sight, out-of-mind," they are just as important to our city's future as our roads, bridges and highways.
Q. Why are we trying to make the White River swimmable? No one swims in the river and smaller streams aren't deep enough for swimming. Parents should keep their kids out of these streams.
A. Our goal is not to make the White River and other streams swimmable 100 percent of the time. There are a few large storms that will still cause overflows even after the new facilities are built. Our plan is the most cost-effective way to meet federal requirements and at the same time protect public health. We agree that urban streams are not safe for swimming, and the city has educational programs to warn children and adults to the dangers of water that might be contaminated by sewage and urban stormwater.
Q. How will these projects benefit local businesses?
A. The city will work hard to ensure that locally owned and operated businesses will participate in the work, thus keeping dollars in Indianapolis and Central Indiana as much as possible. When local businesses benefit, other local companies that serve those businesses and their employees also will benefit. This plan will allow our city to continue to grow and attract new business opportunities.
Q. What is happening with other cities on the White River who have sewage overflows?
A. Indiana has 105 communities with raw sewage overflows, including several on the White River. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is responsible for ensuring that these communities are addressing the problem just as Indianapolis is doing.
Q. How can I help improve water quality?
A. We need you to join us in solving the problem of raw sewage in our streams. Everyone has a role: individual citizens, government, non-profit organizations, businesses, industry, and community groups. You can help by: