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Upgrading Bloomington-Normal's water treatment infrastructure will result in some fee increases

Mock ups and maps that show where water treatment infrastructure imrpovements will be made rest on easels in a conference room. A man in a suit jacket stands in front of an image and looks at it.
Emily Bollinger
The Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District plans to complete 14 different projects over the next 10 to 20 years that will bring the water treatment infrastructure up to federal standards.

The Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District expects some user fees to increase over the next several years as much-needed upgrades to its water treatment infrastructure get underway.

Fourteen individual projects will modernize the water treatment district's operations in McLean County and bring them into compliance with new federal safety standards regarding the level of phosphorus and nitrate in area drinking water.

BNWRD trustees approved a $100 million bond ordinance earlier this year, and the district expects to receive $150 million in a low-cost loan from the federal Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation program, as well as an additional $150 million from the State Revolving Fund Water Pollution Control Loan Program. But some user fees will likely tick up over the next 10-20 years as well to help offset the costs, district executive director Tim Ervin said at a news conference on Wednesday at the Government Center in Bloomington.

Tim Ervin speaks at a podium
Emily Bollinger
Tim Ervin, the executive director of the Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District, speaks at Wednesday's news conference.

"The rates will be increasing on an annual basis," he said, adding the fees are based on two things: a flat rate and a variable rate depending on a household's usage of water.

Estimates from the BNWRD indicate the monthly flat fee — currently $9.14 — will increase to $21.76 by 2044, an increase of 63 cents per year. A variable rate based on a household usage of 5,000 gallons of water per month will go from $16.73 in 2024 to $39.85 in 20 years.

The fee increases will fund an ongoing need for capital improvements within the district, but Ervin said it's also to help the district pay for the treatment it provides.

"Historically, water and sewer charges have been lower, but what you're seeing nationally is the rates are increasing because, unfortunately, as the American Society of Civil Engineers pointed out, [water treatment] infrastructure within the entire country is aging," said Ervin.

Many of BNWRD’s facilities are 75 to 100 years old. Lining has extended the life of nearly century-old ductile iron or terra cotta pipes and stops sewer water from leaching into pipes and into the environment.

"In fact, the primary wastewater treatment facility for McLean Count began operations in 1929 and is still in operation today — but it is well-worn and obsolete," Ervin said.

Ervin said many communities in Illinois face the same challenges of aging infrastructure, tighter government emissions standards, and climate change stresses.

Heavy rainfall events, like the one that caused flooding in 2021, are more frequent now. In the past, the Twin City area had four to five high rainfall events per year that would force sewage into an 80 million gallon holding lagoon until the surge passed and the treatment plan caught up.

That overflow space now gets used 10 to 15 times per year.

The next section of projects in several years includes major rebuilds to the treatment facilities.

The new nutrient standard water treatment facilities must meet by 2035 is 0.5 milligrams per liter. BNWRD is currently releasing water that has 5-6 milligrams per liter, Ervin said. There also are state EPA water quality standards that have a deadline of 2030 for compliance.

Among the 14 projects BNWRD will undertake are:

  • Constructing 34,300 feet of 36-inch sewer piping parallel to Interstate 55 on the west side of Bloomington and Normal.
  • Interceptor collection systems to prevent inflow and infiltration on the east side and far west parts of Bloomington. and Normal, as well as lining to improve "deteriorating" pipe conditions in the main interceptor from Washington to Olive streets.
  • Sewer separation at Wood Street in Bloomington.
  • Replacing three aging diesel generators with natural gas-powered generators.
  • Modernized operating systems at the district's Grit Removal Facility Renovation.

Charlie Schlenker contributed reporting.

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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