Infrastructure Improvement  

At City Council meetings, we often hear a groan from the back of the room whenever we broach the topic of sewer pipe infrastructure improvements. Perhaps talk of sewage is not as exciting as deciding whom to award the key to the city. But a recent event like the steam pipe explosion in New York reminds us of how vulnerable a city's infrastructure can be, and how much damage can occur if core systems are not maintained.

Right now, Medford is looking at major problems in its sewer system. We need to make physical repairs to a large network of sewer pipes because of I&I, or inflow and infiltration. Problems with I&I are costing Medford rate payers over $3 million per year.

Medford’s sewer system comprises 120 miles of pipes. Unlike water pipes, which are often full because of the pressure needed to deliver water to consumers, sewer pipes are not always full; they fill when waste from homes and business flows into them on its way to the sewage treatment plant. So when sewer pipes crack or break, water is let in. Much of this water is ground water that infiltrates our sewer pipes and rainwater that arrives via illegal catch basin connections . This extra flow weakens the pipes and sends water that we’re not even using to the treatment plant to be treated as raw sewage. This can can get very expensive, if you consider that roughly 56% of the sewage that leaves Medford to be treated is because of I & I, and that although an average of 5.5 million gallons of water come into the city each day, 8.7 million gallons of sewage leave. Who pays for this? Medford rate payers, that’s who!

This is a real problem. Many of our city’s sewer pipes are more than 100 years old and many are crumbling.

My solution to handling this matter would be to take a long–term, systematic approach that would offer benefits in the areas of revenue and safety. First, we would eliminate illegal catch basins through zero-percent interest loans offered by the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority. Then, we would reline our sewer pipes to make them stronger. Relining has many benefits. Because it involves less construction, it would serve as less of a disruption to our neighborhoods and businesses. Also, relining would total about one-third of the cost of replacing the pipes. While these physical changes are going on, we could be drafting a multi-tier rate system that would base water users’ rates on volume. The system would be based on fairness. Low-volume users, such as individual residents, would pay a lower rate than such high-volume users as large businesses.

I have led the charge in the city regarding this issue and have offered many resolutions before the council to act quickly and make this a top priority. The longer we wait, the older our infrastructure will get and cost will continue to rise. There's plenty of room for trouble. Let's catch it before a trouble becomes catastrophe.

Michael Marks