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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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Guam Water Authority Warns Of Possible Rate Increases
Increase would help pay off second water treatment plant bond

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGTA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 6, 2012) – With the uncertainty over when the military buildup can be counted on to help pay for upgrades to Guam's wastewater plants, island residents may see their combined water and wastewater bills rise starting next year, Guam Waterworks Authority's (GWA) spokeswoman said.

By the fifth year of the rate increases, the combined cost of water and wastewater, which currently averages $125 monthly for a household, would double, said GWA spokeswoman Heidi Ballendorf. The proposed five-year increases will be subject to Public Utilities Commission approval.

The proposed tiered rate increases will pay for hundreds of millions of dollars that GWA will borrow from bond investors, possibly in June.

A bond will be used to fund the construction of secondary wastewater treatment systems at the Hagta wastewater treatment plant and the Northern district treatment plant, as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Building secondary wastewater treatment systems at both plants will cost about $300 million, Ballendorf said.

U.S. EPA requires GWA to add secondary wastewater treatment systems at the Hagta and northern wastewater treatment plants as part of a lawsuit in the District Court to stop Waterworks from dumping pollutants that could smother Guam's reef and keep people from fishing and swimming.

Each of the wastewater plants has a capacity to handle 12 million gallons of wastewater a day, a GWA report states.

In September 2009, U.S. EPA denied GWA's request for exemptions from the federal Clean Water Act requirements to install a secondary wastewater treatment system.

As part of the process toward making GWA comply with the secondary wastewater treatment system mandate, U.S. EPA yesterday announced a proposed permit requiring the two wastewater plants to install secondary wastewater treatment systems.

The EPA decided previously that discharge from the Hagta and northern plants exceeds Guam's ocean water quality standards for bacteria, designed to protect recreational activities such as swimming and fishing, U.S. EPA stated in a press release yesterday. "Additionally, neither plant has met the minimum standards for primary treatment, which require 30 percent removal of total suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demand," U.S. EPA states.

GWA has spent about $10 million toward recent upgrades to the northern wastewater plant's primary treatment system, GWA stated.

"Primary treatment generally involves screening out large objects such as rags and sticks, removing grit, such as cinders, sand and small stones, and allowing wastewater to settle, followed by the removal of collected solids," EPA states. "When secondary treatment is used, primary-treated wastewater flows into another facility where a large portion of the organic matter in the wastewater is removed by treating the sewage with bacteria. There are a variety of different biological treatment techniques that allow the bacteria to consume most of the waste's organic matter."

Buildup factor

GWA had hoped the buildup would help to upgrade Guam's wastewater plants, but because the buildup is delayed, no funds have been released to help out the agency with infrastructure upgrades, Ballendorf said.

And while GWA is going on the assumption the buildup will occur, it will be smaller and slower, Ballendorf said. New estimates released by the military a few months ago state that the buildup projects' go signal is expected to occur in or after 2014. Previously, the Defense Department planned to complete the construction of a Marine base and relocate thousands of Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014.

GWA may not be able to wait for the buildup funds to start the federally required projects, Ballendorf said.

It takes about seven years to build a secondary treatment facility but, before the construction begins, planning, design and other pre-construction work will also take time, Ballendorf said.

In Hawaii, U.S. EPA required the installation of a secondary wastewater treatment facility at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, which serves metropolitan Honolulu and handles more than twice the capacity of both Guam's Hagta and northern wastewater treatment plants.

In December 2010, Honolulu entered into a consent decree with U.S. EPA that allowed the state to comply with secondary wastewater treatment standards by 2035.

In the meantime, the city implemented interim upgrades that included the addition of ultraviolet disinfection before disposing of wastewater through a pipe that extends 1.7 miles offshore at an average depth of 240 feet, the Honolulu county website states.

Ballendorf said GWA's management will try to ask for at least 20 years to fully comply, or ask for a time frame similar to what Hawaii was allowed.

Dean Higuchi, with the U.S. EPA office in Honolulu, said U.S. EPA has not given a deadline for when the system should be in place.

Higuchi said the agency will work with GWA to implement schedules that will take into account GWA's financial constraints. At the same time, the federal agency looks forward to seeing GWA take steps toward compliance, Higuchi said.

Under the proposed permits, U.S. EPA states GWA also must comply with wastewater discharge limitations for bacteria based on protecting Guam's beaches, and establish additional controls to reduce sewage spills from the improper management of fats, oils and grease.

The proposed permits "underscore EPA's commitment to improve water quality for the protection of Guam's ocean waters," said Jared Blumenfeld, U.S. EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest.

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