We are falling behind.
This is the message from director of Lynchburg Water Resources Tim Mitchell as the city struggles to keep pace with ever-aging infrastructure and future needs associated with growth, development and community sustainability.
Tuesday night offered a first look at water, sewer and stormwater capital needs, and the fiscal impacts associated with the water resources department’s 20-year capital improvement plan.
“Right now, we are not meeting the water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure needs,” Mitchell said in his presentation to city council. “We’re falling further behind each year, and we need to really look at our expenditures on those assets to make sure we’re being sustainable in the long run.”
Until now, the department typically puts together a five-year projection, but Deputy City Manager Reid Wodicka said he sat down with Mitchell two years ago to begin developing a multi-decade utility master plan, a long-term look at the department’s investments and finances, ensuring the health and safety of the community and its water supply.
He warned some of the numbers would look “daunting” but said to remember the department is talking about a 20-year view.
The overview of the 20-year CIP is only the beginning of the conversation and will be used as a foundation for future capital spending and rate-setting. Mitchell said the department plans to do what it can to minimize water and sewer rate increases, but departmental capital spending would have to drastically increase to meet many of the infrastructure needs.
For long-term sustainability, “modest but steady rate increases” are recommended.
According to the overview, over the next 20 years, the total projected water fund CIP needs are about $250 million, or $12.5 million per year. Currently, the department averages $4 million annually.
In the same window, the sewer fund CIP needs were about $394 million, or $19.7 million per year. Currently, the department averages $14.7 million annually.
Exact stormwater spending needs are not yet known, but the department is currently assessing the condition of the infrastructure and developing priorities.
Among the future water projects are waterline replacement, water distribution system improvements and general facilities improvements. Big-ticket sewer projects include completing the combined sewer overflow program — which recently received $25 million in state American Rescue Plan Act funds — renewing the sewer collection system and extending sewer to unsewered areas.
Realistically, Mitchell said the department hopes to increase its water CIP spending to at least $10 million annually, and its sewer CIP spending to at least $15 million.
He acknowledged it would not be possible to do everything the department needs, but the department does need to “ramp up” its spending in order to be sustainable for future generations and ensure adequate water and sewer services are available.
Next steps include a review of a financial plan at a future meeting. Ongoing efforts from the department include the development of a Water System Master Plan, an update of the Solids Master Plan for the Water Resource Recovery Facility, and the development of an Unsewered Area Master Plan.