Lexington Sewer Plants Call for Bigger Pipes

We know where the problems are in Lexington's dilapidated sewer system, now the next step is to fix them. The city's Division of Water Quality is preparing to send a proposed course of action to the EPA in Washington. And officials are warning residents to expect major sewer construction for several years to come.

"This is really hard to see, but there's a whole bunch of red dots here, that's in the West Hickman drainage area "

At a recent public meeting held at Victory Baptist Church, Lexington Division of Water Quality Director Charlie Martin pointed to a large map of Fayette County's watersheds. He's showed the small audience where all the problems are in the sewer system: cracks in the pipes and pipes that are too small to handle a heavy thunderstorm. The presentation is one of several Martin has delivered over the past year.

"All these lines that you see that are darker blue, essentially those are lines that are going to be up-sized through this process. Essentially dig and replace the existing sewer lines and put in bigger, deeper, and steeper pipes in order to convey the flow down there."

The city is gearing up for an overhaul of its aging sanitary sewers and pump stations to comply with a consent decree signed with the Environmental Protection Agency, which sued Lexington for violating the Clean Water Act. Martin describes it as major reconstructive surgery for the public works system.

Officials have settled on a design model for the repairs. Once complete, the sewers should be able to handle what's considered a two-year storm, or 3.2 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. In addition to installing bigger pipes, Charlie Martin says above ground sewage storage containers will also be part of the solution.

"The storage tanks will allow us to store the water in the system in a safe manner and then slowly let it out after the storm goes so the treatment plant can stay a certain size and have continuous flows as opposed to being at one flow one day, and another dramatically huge flow the next day, then dropping back down again."

The largest of these tanks would hold up to 40 million gallons, roughly the equivalent to filling up Commonwealth Stadium with water.

The work will be spread out over 12 years, starting in 2013. But the work can't happen soon enough for John Collins. The homeowner lives in the Garden Springs area, which is prone to sewer overflows.

"We've been there about three or four years and it's happened three times. One time the water came, we capped the drain, and it came from the toilet. And that was like the biggest mess you've ever seen when that water came down and destroyed my office and my computer stuff and my books. And just everything that was down there."

Collins is so fed up, he's even launched a website to document the damage. Barbara Walden is also eager to see sewer changes in Lexington. She lives in the Hartland subdivision and has a pump station on her property.

"It was supposed to have been gone within 10 years and we've been there 24. So we're ready for it to be gone."

A master plan for phase one of Lexington's sewer project is due to the EPA in October, but Charlie Martin says the city is already making several improvements.

Most of the public meeting focused on logistics and where roads and yards will have to be dug up. What was not discussed in detail was how to pay for the overhaul, currently estimated at $540 million.

"There will be a lot of meetings about rates. There will be a lot of discussions with council and others, future elected officials. By the time we get to the end of this, there will be a lot of different players involved in it except the citizens who live here and they'll be involved in it from the beginning."

And the Division of Water Quality says the public side of the sewer system is just one part of the equation. Martin says there are many bad pipes and faulty sump pumps on private property as well.

Another public meeting is scheduled for Monday September 19 at 6 p.m. at the Fayette County Cooperative Extension office on Red Mile Place.