BF grinder pumps poop out

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It rolls down hill and, sometimes, it hits the fan. And no matter how you try to avoid it, it’s a fact of life.

Sewage is no one’s favorite topic but it’s time to discuss the nitty gritty of just how much the residents and businesses in the village of Bosque Farms will need to pay to continue having a system that removes waste.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Ralph McClellan, a waste water maintenance man with the village of Bosque Farms, begins disassembling a sewer grinder pump. The pump will be rebuilt using a combination of new and used parts, tested and then stored at the sewage treatment plan until a resident calls for a replacement.

For years now, councilors and mayors have made vague mention of beginning the arduous task of updating the village’s sewer rates. So far, no one has proven quite brave enough. But that may be about to change.

In October, Village Treasurer Deborah Kelly informed the governing body that she was sending out a check for $45,000 for grinder pump parts.

“We are going to have to increase that expenditure line item,” Kelly said.

Any village resident who attends council meetings regularly has heard the term “grinder pump” tossed around, usually accompanied by large dollar amounts. So what are these things, why are they important and just why are they so expensive?

The grinder pumps are akin to giant garbage disposals in a tank, said Cliff Hibdon, utilities director. The waste line coming from a house or business is about four inches in diameter. After the waste is processed by the grinder pump, it exits the unit through a two-inch pipe.

A one-horsepower motor moves the liquid through the exit line and into the main sewage collection pipe where it is pumped to the treatment plant and then 32 feet up, into the clarifier.

The system is under constant, low, positive pressure, so breaks to the lines are best avoided, Hibdon said.

The village began building the sewer system in 1999 and completed the multi-phase project in the mid-2000s.

A new grinder pump is estimated to last five to 10 years, depending on what goes down the drain, Hibdon said.

“It’s a lot of grease and powdered soap that accumulates. The soap doesn’t dissolve completely, so it just sticks,” Hibdon said.

He added that grease from restaurants is also extremely hard on the pumps. Of the 1,400 units in the system, more than 90 of them are for commercial customers.

“We need to have this discussion,” said Mayor Bob Knowlton. “If people want services, there is a cost.”

A grinder pump can cost an individual $2,600 retail. The village bought pumps last year for $2,100 each because it bought in bulk.

But that doesn’t mean every time one breaks down a new one goes in.

Hibdon said the employees in his department can rebuild the pumps several times, depending on what the problem is. And they have found all kinds of ways to cut costs to keep them up and running.

If the pump sits in the system after a house is empty, and the system isn’t purged, the sewage eventually eats through the housing and begins damaging the motor inside.

To pull the motor, the electrical leads have to be cut. Hibdon said the manufacturer of the pumps charges about $600 for a new motor, but a company in Albuquerque will put new leads on for $200 a motor.

The bearings needed for the pumps are more than $120 from the manufacturer, but Hibdon can buy them from an Albuquerque supplier for almost half that.

Sometimes, however, the pump is too far gone and has to be replaced.

“To replace everything is $2,700 in parts, so at that point you just have to put in a new one,” Hibdon said.

Hibdon said as of Nov. 15, his department has rebuilt 316 pumps. They rebuilt 279 for all of 2012.

“It’s a good system, by and large,” said Village Clerk/Administrator Gayle Jones. “But like any system, it requires maintenance.”

And to do that maintenance, the village needs revenue.

“What it comes down to, is we aren’t making enough money to maintain the system,” Knowlton said.

Another thing village leaders have to consider in all this is the addition of sewage from the neighboring city of Peralta. The top legislative priorities for Bosque Farms this year are improvements to the sewage treatment plant to keep up with the additional sewage from Peralta.

And with an entire other city coming on line, there will need to be even more people on hand to take care of the system.

The water and sewer systems are expected to be self sufficient in terms of revenues and expenses, Knowlton said.

“They are what’s called enterprise funds,” he said. “They need to make enough to maintain themselves.”

The 2013-14 village budget projects the water and sewer funds together will bring in $1.8 million and expenses are projected to hit $900,000.

Not only do the costs of operating and maintaining the system come out of the revenues collected, but so do the salaries and benefits of the five waste water department employees and a sixth salary for billing and administration.

The funds also have to take care of an $88,000 a year payment to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the loan the village took out to begin building the system.

The sewer rates are all a matter of economy of scale, Knowlton said.

“If you look at some place like Las Cruces, their rates are lower,” he said. “But they have more people. This affects our residents more since they live in a small town.”

And while the village can request capital outlay funding for planning, designing and building, there are no state funds available for on-going maintenance or to repay the loan.

Since the water system was completed in the early 2000s, the village has only raised rates once — in July 2009.

Water is for household use only, so what goes down the drain and through the grinder pump determines a residents’ sewer rate on a 1:1 ratio, Jones said.

When the water rates went up, sewer rates were increased as well, but held to that same 1:1 ratio.

“But we are not bringing in enough revenue,” the mayor said. “It’s just that simple.”

The village has a water and sewer rate study done by the state of Missouri from about 10 years ago, the one used to calculate the 2009 water rate changes.

Knowlton said they would use the same study and begin plugging the village’s figures into the spreadsheets to begin building various rate scenarios.

“Once we have that, we will begin having public workshops,” he said. “We know we don’t have enough revenue to support the system but we still don’t know what it is ultimately going to cost.”


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.