Why is your sewer bill more than your water bill?

You (hopefully) would never drink water from the Tennessee River before it was treated. And, also hopefully, you would never run a pipe from your toilet, washing machine and dishwasher straight into Shoal Creek. Turning river water into drinking water has a cost. Cleaning waste water so that it can be returned to the environment has an even higher cost.

If you buy your water from Hartselle Utilities and are connected to our sewer system, your bill will have separate line items for water and wastewater.

Each sewer customer has a base sewer charge that is designed to provide a portion of the required revenue to help maintain HU’s sewer system infrastructure; fund capital projects within our sewer collection system and at our Wastewater Treatment Plant; and ensure that HU can meet its debt repayment obligations for loans taken out to maintain the wastewater system infrastructure. Additionally, customers are charged a volumetric charge for sewer system usage based on their water usage, because most of the time the water a household uses exits the home through the sewer system as wastewater.

Hartselle Utilities purchases water from Decatur Utilities. Decatur Utilities bears the costs of turning water from the Tennessee River into safe drinking water, and they have the benefit of scale from a large customer base to spread the cost over many individual water customers.

Wastewater – sewage – that enters HU’s system is treated in Hartselle. The Hartselle Utilities Wastewater Treatment Plant cleans wastewater and sewage so that it can be returned safely to our environment.

Everything that enters our sewer system is processed to meet both federal and state standards. And as environmental regulations have become more stringent, the cost to meet the standards has increased.

In addition, as scientific discoveries about the harmful effects of pollution provide more information about what is safe, treating wastewater becomes increasingly more complicated. At the turn of the century, if wastewater was treated at all, it was only to remove really big, obvious items. Later, settling tanks were introduced to remove small solids, but the water released back into the environment was still polluted by today’s standards.

Today, HU’s wastewater treatment process first removes solids – everything from rags and plastics to sand and smaller particles – found in the wastewater. Then, naturally-occurring ‘helpful’ bacteria and other microorganisms consume organic matter and pollutants in the wastewater, and are then separated from the water. Finally, the wastewater is treated to restore oxygen back into the water to ensure that it can support life, before it is released into Shoal Creek.

It is an effective system, but an expensive one to operate.

In addition to the treatment plant costs, a sewer system’s infrastructure is more expensive to build, replace and maintain than that of a water system.

Drinking water is delivered through pressurized pipes. It can flow uphill as well as downhill, so water lines can be placed only a few feet underground. Water pipes can generally be constructed in already cleared right-of-way areas. By contrast, the flow of wastewater through sewer lines is controlled by gravity. Sewer pipes must be installed in lower lying areas, and placed deeper in the ground, both of which can increase construction costs, replacement cost and the cost to maintain our sewer system.  In addition, there are less sewer customers to spread these increased costs to than those of our water system.

There are ways you can help HU keep our wastewater treatment costs down and help protect our environment. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Don’t put anything into toilets other than human waste and toilet paper. Even if a wet wipe is advertised as ‘flushable,’ it’s a solid. Throw it in the trash.
  • Scrape food leftovers into the trash, or even better, into a compost bin
  • Pour fats, oils and milk into used containers, with lids, and put into the trash, instead of pouring them down the drain.
  • Use environmentally friendly detergents and cleaning products.
  • Wash paint brushes in a bucket and pour the water into your yard or garden, away from drains.
  • Dispose of household chemicals in safe containers instead of pouring them down the drain.
  • Never pour leftover medicine down the drain or into the toilet.