Newton officials have replaced almost all the water meters in the city, and now they plan to go underground to fix miles of aging and cracked water and sewer pipes in an $89 million, 20-year project that will likely mean increased utility bills for homeowners.
To pay for the improvements, the city would boost water and sewer fees an average of 4 percent annually over at least the next decade, said Bob Rooney, the city’s chief operating officer.
Funds to begin lining the sewer pipes will be included in the fiscal 2013 budget that Mayor Setti Warren will present in April, Rooney said last week.
Newton officials estimate that homeowners using the recent average of 71,250 gallons of water would see their annual bill rise by $51, to $1,362, next year. But over the course of a decade, those yearly 4 percent increases would mean that homeowners currently paying $1,311 would pay $1,924 in fiscal 2022.
The rate increases will help the city address its infrastructure needs and eventually save taxpayers money, Rooney said. Water and sewer fee hikes have fluctuated wildly in recent years, and the average 4 percent increase will give residents some certainty about their bills, he said.
“These projects are long overdue,’’ said Alderwoman Ruthanne Fuller. “The water, sewer, and storm-water infrastructure is old and desperately needs to be renovated and/or replaced.’’
The additional water, sewer, and storm-water work comes on the heels of recently installed water meters. The city began replacing water meters in 2010, after the old system broke down. But the new meters have vexed some residents, who have received significantly larger bills and have raised concerns about the accuracy of the equipment. Newton officials said the meters have been tested, are accurate and that the city is working with residents on payment plans.
While residents may still be reeling from the water meter uproar, the plan to fix the water and sewer pipes is a different issue, Fuller said.
Over the past 14 years, Newton has spent about $26 million on its pipes, but it’s not been enough to keep up with the system, parts of which are nearly a century old, Fuller said.
Excess water is getting into the waste-water system, Rooney said.
Newton pays the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority $19.7 million a year to handle its waste water. But about 60 percent of the material that goes to the facility is clean rain or ground water that is seeping into the old sewer pipes, Rooney said.
If the city can reduce the clean water going for treatment, its payment to the authority could go down, too, he said.
The city has already started on some of the work to deal with the excess water coming into the system.
When crews went into homes to replace the old water meters, they also checked whether residents had improperly hooked up driveway drains or basement sinks into the sewer pipes, Rooney said.
The city found 740 illegal connections, which are adding to the volume that Newton sends to the treatment facility, Rooney said.
Newton officials have notified residents, many of whom were unaware, that they need to fix those connections, he said.
But the city also needs to fix its pipes, Rooney said.
Newton officials hope to complete the sewer work in the next 11 years and rehabilitate the water pipes over the next 20 years or more.
Most of the sewer pipe work can be done without crews having to tear up streets, Rooney said.
The water pipes will require cleaning since deposits have built up, slowing down water pressure, Rooney said. In some cases, the reduced pressure can make it more difficult for firefighters to extinguish fires.
Newton officials also want to start looking at how the city handles storm-water runoff and if more needs to be done. The fiscal 2013 budget, which takes effect July 1, will also include a new storm-water fee structure - charging businesses based on how big their parking lots are, instead of a flat fee - to pay for an evaluation of the storm-water system.
Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.