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New Sewer Rates in Small Town

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Original Title:
"$3 a Flush" – New Sewer Rates in Nevada County Town

Several dozen residents of a small Nevada County community say they are the first of what likely will be dozens of similar small towns that soon will face expensive upgrades to their sewer systems. For the 83 families at Cascade Shores on Scott Flat Reservoir, it will be particularly costly.

"It's a big deal for our little community," said Carolyn Inglis who like the others who live there have been told their annual payment for sewer fees would likely more than double to $4,500. "People simply can't afford to pay $4,500 a year," said Inglis.

Although the sewage treatment plant that currently serves the residents of Cascade Shores is only 10 years old and still in good operating condition, new state and federal clean water sanctions make the system obsolete. Its output is so small -- only several gallons of treated water per minute -- most of the year it merely percolates into the ground before it even reaches a nearby stream. But as existing operating permits expire for plants like the one at Cascade Shores, the facilities must be rebuilt in order to comply with the new regulations.

In large cities where the cost is spread among a larger customer base, the impact for any one individual customer will likely be minimal. But at Cascade Shores, which is among the first in Northern California to have its existing permit expire, the $6.4 million overhaul will have to be paid for by the 83 customers who rely on the plant. And that cost breaks down to the $4,500 annual fee.

"That's a lot," exclaimed homeowner Arnold Goldberg, who said the new sewer fee would be higher than his property tax. Goldberg calculated that with the new fee, each household would be paying fifty-two cents per hour for sewer service. "That works out to about $3 per flush," said Goldberg. Based on current average water rates, it will cost roughly 10 times more to pour a glass of water down the drain than it will to fill that glass in the first place.

The dilemma facing Cascade Shores is expected to be felt by dozens of other communities in Northern California as their existing sewer plant permits expire. "In the state of California there's going to be a number of other small rural communities that will face similar circumstances," said Gordon Pantenga, Wastewater Operations Manager for the Nevada County Sanitation District. He added, "The main determinate on what the ultimate cost of that project is going to be is the number of customers."

The residents of Cascade Shores have prepared large reports and have gathered signatures to present to lawmakers in Sacramento seeking relief. But they are fighting time. Under the new regulations, if they don't have a new plant up and running by the time their current permit expires next fall, they say they will face fines of several thousand dollars each day for being out of compliance with new clean water standards.

(This story was provided by News10 Rewrite.)

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