Sewer plant

Treated water flows back into the Brazos River at Waco’s central sewer plant.

A regional sewer system that supports seven McLennan County cities might soon fall under Waco’s sole ownership.

The Waco City Council on Tuesday will consider entering an agreement with Bellmead, Hewitt, Lacy-Lakeview, Lorena, Robinson and Woodway that would make those cities customers of a Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewerage System owned solely by Waco instead of jointly by all seven cities.

Waco City Manager Wiley Stem said officials from all seven cities have been discussing the idea for about two years.

“This doesn’t really change the financial amount and how we budget it, it just changes how we do our business,” Stem said.

The proposal involves Waco taking ownership of the system, guaranteeing each participating city’s usage capacity, charging each city operating fees and treating them as customers. Stem said the current shared ownership approach is inefficient, requiring all seven cities to sign off on system updates, repairs and bond sales to fund the work.

“When we do a capital project, every city has to bring their own bond dollars to the table,” Stem said.

Stem cited $45 million in improvements the sewer system needed in 2009 as an example.

“Seven city councils had to act on the bond sale, city councils had to approve the work, and then the city of Waco collected all the money from everybody and did the project,” Stem said.

Because the Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewerage System operates under an agreement between cities and is not itself a public entity, it does not qualify for state funding. An effort to secure state backing would require seven applications, one from each connected city.

Stem said the move to sole ownership by Waco would allow the city to act on its own to apply for federal and state grants and low interest loans.

“We want to continue those benefits with this new structure that takes care of the financing and our ability to apply for state funding,” Stem said.

Robinson City Manager Craig Lemin said the proposed change would be sensible for all seven cities involved.

“We’re one of the few cities that still has room to grow,” Lemin said. “Robinson is 13 square miles and we still have room to grow, so one of our concerns was having access to future capacity. We feel like this plan helps to achieve that.”

Each city will pay a rate for each 1,000 gallons treated. That model would cut down on costs associated with the bond process at the city level, he said.

“It’s an efficiency thing,” Lemin said. “I came from a small city where we ran our own sewer plant, and there are some real challenges.”

The cities entered the joint ownership agreement after buying the system from the Brazos River Authority in 2004.

“It was done clearly looking at the impact on the region and the fact that the BRA was taking revenues from the plant here and putting it toward plants in other parts of the state,” he said. “The feeling was that it was better to keep those funds here in this region.”

Each city’s projected rate has not been finalized, but Lemin said he estimates Robinson’s will be 75 to 80 cents per 1,000 gallons.

“A sewer is a pretty critical thing, you know,” Lemin said. “It’s not something you can turn off. It’s going to be kept up, it’s got to meet the standards.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the Waco City Council will consider awarding a $1.3 million cleaning project to DRT Biosolids Inc. for work on the regional sewer system.

The council will meet for a work session at 2 p.m., followed by a business session at 6 p.m. Both will take place in the Bosque Theater in the Waco Convention Center, 100 Washington Ave.

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