West Columbia faces a sizable bill for federally required improvements in sewage disposal.
City leaders are exploring ways to pay for $8.9 million in upgrades intended to stop sewage spills into the Congaree River flowing on the east edge of the community of 15,000 residents.
“It’s a very large sum for us,” city administrator Jennifer Cunningham said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it.”
The tab is its share of improvements planned at the facility in neighboring Columbia that has handled the Lexington County city's sewage disposal for 40 years.
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It’s too soon to say whether the project will mean higher utility bills for residents and businesses in West Columbia and surrounding neighborhoods, Cunningham said.
The price tag for the improvements equals three-fourths of the $12.1 million that the city spends annually for water and sewer service, although payment for the project could be spread over several years.
Areas served by West Columbia are paying more for water and sewer after city leaders approved increases estimated to add up to $5.50 to the monthly bill of the average homeowner.
Those increases – the first since 2010 – started July 1 after city leaders said the cost of routine operation is rising. It wasn’t outlined then, but that package is designed to accommodate repairs needed to prevent sewage spills, Councilman Tem Miles said.
“We’ve known this was coming,” he said. “I knew it was going to be very expensive.”
West Columbia sends an average of up to 3.25 million gallons of sewage daily to Columbia for disposal under an arrangement in place since 1975.
Columbia is under a court-ordered agreement to end spills from its dilapidated sewage system.
It must make improvements during the next 10 years that will cost about $750 million under an agreement finalized last spring with a federal judge and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Some communities in partnerships for water and sewer service with West Columbia expect to avoid higher rates, mainly because their sewage disposal is handled through Cayce.
Officials in the town of Lexington foresee no impact since their arrangement with West Columbia is for drinking water but not wastewater disposal.
“Those are separate issues,” Lexington town administrator Britt Poole said.