By Rick Cohler
BROWN COUNTY – Over the last several months, NEW Water, the brand of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District (GBMSD), has graced the agendas and boardrooms of municipalities throughout Brown County – presenting its facility plan update to board members and the community.
NEW Water serves more than 230,000 residents, in a 285-square-mile area in 15 municipalities, including, Green Bay, De Pere, Allouez, Ashwaubenon, Bellevue, Hobart, Howard, Luxemburg, Pulaski, Suamico, Ledgeview, Lawrence, Pittsfield, Scott and Dyckesville – with more than 80% of NEW Water’s revenue coming from municipalities.
Over the last nine decades, the metropolitan sewer district has undergone many upgrades and expansions to keep up with the growth of the area.
NEW Water Executive Director Tom Sigmund said for projects identified in the facility plan, which will be phased-in over the next 20 years, the investment needed is approximately $245 million to $370 million.
He said the plan looks to address the condition, performance and capacity gaps, develop infrastructure improvement packages and evaluate project prioritization and cost impacts at both the Green Bay and De Pere facilities.
Sigmund said the plan is a requirement of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and is required in order to qualify for Clean Water Fund low-cost loans, which are 55% of the market rate.
He said the projects focus on the plant’s liquid treatment facility, as the solids portion of the plant was upgraded about five years ago.
“We have work to do around our influent pumping station at the Green Bay facility and the screening step which removes the solids and grit,” Sigmund said. “We then have four primary clarifiers which need to be rehabilitated. We have secondary clarifiers after our biologic treatment system, some solids handling in terms of thickening our solids and some storage improvements.”
He said replacing the primary clarifiers at the Green Bay facility will likely be the first project undertaken, with sludge thickening improvements will be right behind.
The other projects, Sigmund said, are primarily to replace equipment which has been in use since 1974 and some increase in capacity.
“At the De Pere facility we have influent pumping improvements to make due to both the age and the capacity of the facility, as well as the screening and grit removal, then clarification needs to be replaced,” he said. “We also need to replace our biological and our effluent disinfection.”
The big picture
Sigmund said looking at the whole picture, which includes operations and maintenance costs and an interceptor system, projected revenue increases of approximately 5.5-7% each year for 10 years will be needed to fund the projects – which means a likely increase in rates for residents.
However, he said it results in benefits to customers as well.
“We provide this service and maintain the capacity that we have so that the communities can grow as they choose to grow,” Sigmund said. “We make sure we have the wastewater treatment facilities in place to accept the wastewater that they discharge to us, treat it appropriately and discharge it to the environment meeting our regulatory permits.”
He said growth in the community can impact the rates.
“The Greater Green Bay area sees about a three-quarters of one percent increase in population each year,” Sigmund said. “As more residents discharge into the system, you have more people to pay for that, so that should have an off-setting reduction in the rates.”
He said NEW Water charges all its customers the same basic rate according to how they use the system.
“Residents in De Pere and in Green Bay pay the same basic rate for the pollutants that they discharge,” he said. “Most of the commercial and industrial dischargers in those communities are paying the same rates. There are two industries in Green Bay that have a unique agreement with us. When you look at them collectively they’re paying the same rate, they’re just paying it differently. Two large customers, Procter & Gamble and Green Bay Packaging, have reserved a certain amount of treatment capacity that they pay for whether they use it or not, and we make sure we can provide it to them. Since those two mills are right next to our treatment facility, and they have their own separate pipe that they pay to maintain, they are not paying into the interceptor charges, because they don’t use them.”
Increases felt by municipalities
The Allouez Village Board approved an increase to sanitary sewer rates due to higher charges from NEW Water, the repair and replacement of aging lines in older neighborhoods and the need to cover fixed costs at a time total volume is steady or declining thanks to improved conservation and leak prevention.
The sewer bill for an average residential customer with a 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch meter who uses 3,000 gallons of water per month will increase from $28.72 to $34.77.
Earlier this year, the Hobart Village Board approved a new sewer rate of $8.21 per 1,000 gallons – an increase of 5.6% (44 cents per 1,000 gallons).
Village Administrator Aaron Kramer said the new rate was based on rates from GBMSD, current annual operational costs and debt service of the village’s sewer utility and projected sewer volume.
He said the GBMSD rate increased by 1.4% in 2022, while day-to-day operations include a projected 4.5% increase in the number of gallons billed.
At the end of last year, the Village of Suamico approved its 2022 sanitary sewer rates, which included a 2.9% (or 27 cent) increase in the usage rate per 1,000 gallons.
The Village Board set the rate at $9.48 per 1,000 gallons for metered, residential customers.
It follows a 31 cent increase in 2021.
Those municipalities who have expressed displeasure over the rising sewer costs, said it comes down to a lack of representation and oversight.
NEW Water is governed by a five-member Board of Commissioners, which are nominated by the county executive and approved by the County Board, each serving a five-year term.
Current board members include Kathryn Hassleblad, James Blumreich, Tom Meinz, Lee Hoffman and Mark Tumpach.
Hobart Village President Rich Heidel said the board needs to have municipality representation, of which currently it has none.
“This may mean increased commission size with shorter commissioner terms, members of which would be appointed by municipalities based on the size of their respective municipality’s customer base,” Heidel said. “Ultimately, it may be necessary to consider regulation as a utility by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin – whose purpose is to mimic competition and provide oversight over capital projects, operational costs, rate increases and the like.”
Heidel said the Village of Suamico shares very similar concerns.
In an effort for the village to have more of a voice on NEW Water’s Board of Commissioners, the Suamico Village Board approved a resolution last year that supported the creation of a NEW Water Municipal Committee.
“Obviously, a potential 7% year-over-year rate increase for the next 10 years is concerning, and it may be higher given the fact that this figure was calculated prior to the recent spikes in construction costs,” Suamico Village Administrator Alex Kaker said. “My hope is that NEW Water will be able to find opportunities to flatten the curve of these rate increases by strategically delaying certain capital projects. I understand delaying capital projects come with a degree of risk, such as mechanical breakdowns, but we all do this on a municipal level and in our homes. Be it a new fire station or a new roof. We ask that NEW Water do the same.”
Sigmund said NEW Water utilizes an expense impact metric to help measure how rate increases will impact a family – developing a “typical household cost” for services.
He said a “typical cost” model is commonly used to help people understand how rate increases may impact them.
According to NEW Water’s metric, for the 2022 budget, a typical household will pay about $23 per month for NEW Water services to flush the toilet, wash dishes and do laundry whenever they want.
For example: At the projected 5.5-7% annual revenue increase for 2023, the typical household is projected to see an increase of about $1.27 to $1.60 more per month for wastewater services provided by NEW Water.
Sigmund said it is important to note that NEW Water is a wholesale provider of services and this example does not include costs a community typically includes in a resident’s bill, for example, to operate and maintain the neighborhood sewer systems.
Sigmund said he realizes there is a bit of a disconnect between customers and the utility.
“They are customers of the municipality they live in,” he said. “I live in the City of Green Bay, so my water and sewer comes from the City of Green Bay, and our cost is kind of baked into that bill. I don’t think people think about who takes care of their wastewater.”
The Green Bay facility serves the City of Green Bay, villages of Allouez, part of Ashwaubenon, Bellevue, Howard, Luxemburg, part of Pulaski, Suamico, Pittsfield Sanitary District No. 1, Town of Scott Municipal Utility, which serves several towns and Dykesville Sanitary District.
The De Pere facility serves the City of De Pere, all or part of the villages of Ashwaubenon, Hobart, Town of Ledgeview Sanitary District 2 and the Town of Lawrence Sanitary District.
The Green Bay plant is about four times larger than the one in De Pere, and the two combined have a hydraulic capacity of about 160 million gallons per day at peak performance.
NEW Water is governed by a five-member Board of Commissioners.
Each Commissioner is appointed by the Brown County executive, approved by the Brown County Board, and serves a five-year term.
Current board members are: Kathryn Hassleblad, president; James Blumreich, secretary; Tom Meinz, vice-president; Lee Hoffman, vice-president; and Mark Tumpach, vice-president.
To keep up to date on the project and for more about NEW Water, visit newwater.us.
In Wisconsin, a facility plan must be submitted to the DNR for final approval.
Sigmund said no date has been set yet for submission of the plan to the state.
Comments on it can still be made at [email protected].
Press Times Editor Heather Graves contibuted to this story.