LIMA — Mayor David Berger on Tuesday testified before the U.S. House of Representatives calling on Congress to increase federal support for costly water and wastewater projects that cities like Lima have undertaken to comply with federal water quality standards.
The cost of these projects has fallen almost entirely on local governments, Berger said, even though the projects are federally mandated. In 2018, for example, Berger said local governments spent $130 billion in water and wastewater utilities, while the federal government pitched in just $3 billion to help.
Cities have in turn relied on long-term debt and service rate hikes to pay for the projects.
“The continuing demand from the federal government that we perform in certain ways, without giving us funding to cover those costs, means that we are ending up pricing water and sewer services out of the range of many poor and middle-income families,” Berger said. “That is not sustainable.”
The city of Lima entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2014 to conduct a 27-year, $150-million overhaul of the city’s combined storm and sewage drains to reduce the amount of raw sewage dumped into the Ottawa River during severe storms — a problem many cities with outdated infrastructure face when too much water flows into a combined storm drain in a short period of time.
The consent decree took 14 years to negotiate, Berger said, ultimately allowing the city to discharge raw sewage during heavy storms no more than five times per year.
But climate change, or the increasing frequency of severe storms, puts the city at risk of violating its terms with the EPA once the project is completed.
“If at the end of this process we’re having 10 or 15 (discharges) per year, then we have undersized our systems and we’re still then not in compliance with the Clean Water Act,” Berger said. “That has consequences for us. … The federal government has a responsibility not just to tell us what to do, but to also provide us with resources so we can in fact do those things in a way that’s responsive to the law. ”