Customers of city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) will be paying more for their drinking water starting Jan. 1, 2022.
But the increase will not be quite as much as CBU originally proposed.
CBU took the rate case to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC), after it was approved by the city council in mid-March. The IURC recognized Indiana University and Washington Township Water as intervenors.
Under the proposed settlement, which still needs approval by the IURC, residential customers will still see an increase in two phases. But the overall increase for residential customers will go from $3.73 to $4.38 per 1,000 gallons, instead of $4.54 per 1,000 gallons.
The 16-cent smaller increase that residential customers will pay compares to a 32-cent smaller increase for Indiana University. Indiana University is a separate customer class for CBU. Indiana University’s increase will go from $2.37 to $2.99 per 1,000 gallons instead of $3.31 per 1,000 gallons.
At its Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s seven-member utilities service board (USB) voted unanimously, with one abstention, to recommend a proposal to the city council that water rates be increased starting in 2022.
Abstaining was USB member Jason Banach. He’s a former city councilmember who represented District 2 from 1996 to 2005.
Before the USB took up the item, Banach announced that his employer is Bloomington’s largest water customer, adding, “It’s out of an abundance of caution that I’ll be recusing myself from this discussion and abstaining from the vote.” Banach works for Indiana University as the university’s director of real estate.
It is the university that is likely to be the strongest opponent of the water rate increase.
The proposed water rate increase would come in two phases, in 2022 and 2024, with residential customers paying a total of 22 percent more over the course of four years. Customers would see higher bills starting in early 2022.
After the two phases are implemented, Indiana University, which is a separate class of customer, would pay 39.7 percent more than it does now. IU also pays for water as an irrigation customer, and all irrigation customers would see a 43.9 percent increase over the two phases.
At Tuesday’s USB meeting, Indiana University assistant vice president for utilities Keith Thompson told the board: “IU is not happy with a 40-percent rate increase, even though it’s coming in two phases.” Thompson added, “This is a rate shock to Indiana University.”
The higher increases for IU and for irrigation customers is based on a cost of service study, done by a city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) consultant, which says that residential customers have been subsidizing other classes of customers.
Most Bloomington Transit buses will continue to run next week on their normal schedule. But the suspension of Indiana University classes means that BT will offer no service on Routes 7, 6-Limited and 9-Limited through March 29.
Routes 6 and 9 will continue operating on the university’s semester break schedules through March 29. BT Access, the agency’s para-transit service, will operate normally.
On Thursday, Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, announced additional statewide measures meant to help reduce COVID-19 infection rates. The number of cases in the state of Indiana has doubled from six on Tuesday (March 10) to 12 cases two days later (March 12).
Among the measures announced by Holcomb on Thursday was a prohibition of non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people. About the scope of the prohibited gatherings, the press release states, “This includes any event or gathering of people who are in one room or a single space at the same time, such as cafeterias …”
CM Steve Volan. Sept. 18, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)
CM Chris Sturbaum. Sept. 18, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)
The line separating the part of Monroe County that’s inside Bloomington from the part that’s outside the city formed a common thread across three agenda items on the city council’s Wednesday agenda.
The council approved a sewer rate increase for all of Bloomington’s customers. For the first time, the rate is different for customers inside the city limits compared to outside. Customers inside the city limits will see a 3-percent increase, or about 72 cents more per month for an average customer. For an average customer outside the city, the 15-percent increase works out to $3.60 more per month. The differential rate increase passed on an 8–1 vote, with Chris Sturbaum dissenting, based on the differential character of the rates.
City limits also played a role in a revision to the city’s ordinance on sewer connection fees, which was also approved by the council Wednesday night. The point of the revision was to allow the director of utilities to waive connection fees in a couple of basic situations—for a single-family affordable housing project inside the city limits, or for the purpose of disconnecting a property from a septic tank. In the week between the city council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting a week ago, and Wednesday night, the wording was amended to make clear: The septic tank scenario for a waiver is not confined to customers inside the city limits. The council’s vote on the possibility of sewer connection waivers was unanimous, in favor.
Finally, the council approved issuance of $8 million of bonds by the Monroe County’s redevelopment commission, for construction of two new roads outside of town near the western edge. One road will extend Profile Parkway to Gates Drive. The other will extend Sunrise Greeting Court from Vernal Pike down to Gates Drive. The issue was in front of the city council because the county’s TIF district that’s providing the funding includes some land that the city annexed, after the TIF district was established. The council’s vote was unanimous, in favor.
How much sewage do Bloomington utilities customers generate every year? About 2.57 billion gallons. Lake Monroe’s capacity of about 77.14 billion gallons could hold roughly 30 years worth of Bloomington’s sewage.
Bloomington’s sewage is not piped into Lake Monroe, of course. It goes to one of two wastewater treatment plants—Blucher Poole or Dillman Road. These days the Dillman Road facility often operates near or even over its rated capacity of 15 million gallons a day.
It’s a situation that caught the attention of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) recently, in 2016, and two decades ago, in 1999. IDEM sent “early warning” letters to Bloomington noting that the average daily flow through the plant, measured over the course of a year or more, was approaching or over 90 percent of the rated capacity of the facility.
So Bloomington’s utilities director, Vic Kelson, will be appearing in front of the city council on Wednesday (Sept. 11), to lay out the case for a sewer rate increase, to help pay for needed improvements to the city’s two wastewater treatment facilities.
Councilmember Andy Ruff at the Aug. 20, 2019 departmental budget hearings (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Utilities director Vic Kelson at the Aug. 20, 2019 departmental budget hearings (Dave Askins/Beacon)
On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s utilities director Vic Kelson presented the city council with a proposed $1.7 million for water main replacement as part of the department’s 2020 budget. He described how that would pay to replace roughly 2.5 miles of pipe.
During the time for councilmember questions, Isabel Piedmont-Smith responded to the 2.5-mile figure by saying, “That does sound like very little.” Piedmont-Smith’s assessment was based on the roughly 420 miles of pipe in the system, and the frequency of recent high profile water main breaks.
At a press briefing on the Friday before the week of budget hearings, Mayor John Hamilton said the pace of water main replacement was not fast enough, because pipes don’t last as long as it will take to replace them all—if the current pace of replacement is maintained. About the 2.5 miles per year that has been budgeted for the last few years, Hamilton said, “That’s way better than it was five years ago, but is not good enough.”
At Tuesday’s city council session, utilities director Vic Kelson put the possibility of increasing the pace of water main replacement in the context of a possible rate increase. The current residential rate for City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) is $3.73 per 1,000 gallons with a monthly $5.89 charge for a 5/8-inch meter. Any proposal for an increase in water rates has to be presented to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Bloomington’s rate case to the IURC is planned for 2020.
Four times in the last 30 days, the City of Bloomington’s waste water treatment plant on Dillman Road was putting too much E. coli bacteria into Clear Creek.
Testing is done daily by water treatment plant staff, and it’s allowed for the E. coli limit to be violated three times in a 30-day period, department of utilities public affairs specialist Holly McLauchlin told The Beacon.
But if the E. coli limit is exceeded a fourth time, the city has to report it to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), she said.
Not counting any of the half dozen water main breaks in July, the city of Bloomington has tallied 44 breaks so far in 2019.
Is that a big number? Yes, based on the number of breaks over the last six years that are logged in the dataset posted on the city’s B-Clear data portal.
The 44 breaks in 2019 so far, through the first six months of the year, are at least 12 more breaks (37 percent more) than in the first half of any of the last six years. So this year looks like it could be on course to match or exceed the 88 breaks tallied in 2016, which is the biggest number for a whole year since 2013.
Causes for breaks recorded in the dataset include ground movement, defect in the pipe, improper bedding, a contractor, temperature changes, and water hammer, among others. Water hammer is a sudden increase in pressure caused when the momentum of all the water flowing in a pipe is brought to a sudden stop.