Are there any special rates for people on limited incomes?
Yes. The City has a Residential Life Line Rate for individuals and families on limited incomes. We use the same income guidelines as Southern California Edison and the Gas Company. To qualify, you need to complete a application form and provide proof of income. Applications are available here or by calling Maintenance Services at (714) 738-6897.
Can you tell us about the new sewer maintenance and capital repair programs?
Fullerton’s sanitary sewer system serves a population of 134,187: that includes 45,537 households (homes and apartments) as well as 5,000 businesses. Virtually all water consumed by commercial and industrial users is returned to the sewer system. Few people know that most of our sewer system is between 50 and 100 years old! Age and insufficient maintenance has caused severe damage to the sewer pipes, more than routine maintenance and repair can handle.
In addition, the state of California’s Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board (SARWQCB) has required all the cities in Orange County to greatly expand their sewer maintenance and repair programs. These changes are part of the Federal government’s Clean Water Act requirements and are not optional. We are now required to meet the state and federal mandates within a very tight timeline.
In an effort to fund these mandated programs, the City has implemented a Sewer Service Fee for all residents and businesses. Fullerton is one of the last sewer agencies in Orange County to have such a fee.
Don’t I already pay for sewer service on my property tax bill?
No. The charge you see on your property tax bill is from the Orange County Sanitation District, and is for treating the sewage collected by Fullerton’s system. None of that revenue goes to the City.
How are current Sanitation Fund revenues used? Aren’t they supposed to pay for Fullerton’s sewer system?
Sanitation Fund revenues are generated from a surcharge on water bills. Currently, Sanitation Funds are used to perform street sweeping, tree trimming, storm drain maintenance and operations, storm drain capital improvement projects as well as sewer operations maintenance and capital improvement projects. With ever-increasing state and federal mandates on sewer maintenance requirements and storm water runoff requirements, Sanitation Fund revenues do not come close to covering all of the costs now imposed on the City.
How can I find out more about the sewer fee?
We have set up a 24-hour hotline at (714) 738-2852 to keep everyone of the latest news about sewer fees. We will also be updating the City’s website as new information becomes available. Of course, you can always call us with questions—just call (714) 738-6897 and ask to speak with a member of the Sewer Division staff.
How does this fee compare to other cities with similar population numbers?
In the past, Fullerton residents and business did not pay a sewer service fee to support ongoing maintenance and repair of sewer lines, like most cities in Orange County. The new service fee is less than the average monthly service fee imposed in other cities with comparable population numbers. The City of Fullerton’s sewer system serves a population of 134,187. For example, cities with a population between 100,000 and 499,999, the average sewer fee is $16.45 per month. Statewide the average monthly sewer rate fee is $26.08 per month.
How extensive is the sewer damage?
Based on the inspection of 430,000 linear feet of sewer main in the city, we estimate at least 50% of the sewer mains have some level of damage, ranging from minor to severe. Types of damage include obstructions, roots, holes, offset joints and sags, cracks and fractures. All of these defects may ultimately lead to ground contamination and/or contribute to sanitary sewer overflows and failure.
How is Maintenance Services funding the cost of repairing our sewers?
The City has implemented a sewer service fee based on the actual water usage of each Fullerton resident and/or business. The fee is charged on the bimonthly or monthly water bill. The sewer fee will cover the costs for operation and maintenance, compliance with regulatory agency requirements, capital improvement and replacement of the sewer system. All revenue collected from the sewer fee is placed in the Sewer Enterprise Fund, which supports the short and long-term needs of the system. This ensures continual maintenance and operations to meet the needs of our residents and businesses as well as meeting the mandates. Sewer Enterprise Fund revenues can only be spent on sewer-related maintenance, operations and capital improvement.
I live on a half-acre lot and use most of my water for irrigation. Will I be charged for irrigation water?
No. Our intent is to charge only for water discharged into the sewer system. We have a Large Lot Rate that charges residents who own property of at least one-half acre for 20% of their water use rather than the standard 40%. To qualify, you need to complete a application form and provide proof of lot size. Applications are available here or by calling Maintenance Services at (714) 738-6897.
Is there anything else residents and businesses should know about the sewer service fee?
It’s needed and it’s the law. It’s also an investment in Fullerton’s future and it’s designed to be fair and appropriate for all residents and businesses. Revenue generated by the Fund can only be used for sewer programs and for no other purpose. These additional funds ensure we can handle maintenance, rehabilitation and replacement now, as required by law. Finally and most important, we can better protect the public health and safety of the residents of Fullerton as well as protect the environment, now and well into the future.
What are the costs involved to effectively rehabilitate, repair and maintain Fullerton’s sewer lines?
Over the next 20 years, the cost to rehabilitate and repair the current damage will be approximately $133,125,000, which includes approximately $103,125,000 for main line repairs and approximately $30,000,000 for manhole repairs. Past revenues did not address short or long-term capital repair needs or the increased maintenance requirements. In fact, until now the Maintenance Services Department had never been fully funded for proper sewer operations, at least in terms of the state and federal mandates.
What happens if the City fails to meet these legally required mandates?
The City of Fullerton could be subject to multi-million dollar fines or lawsuits for violating the Clean Water Act and the Waste Discharge Requirements. Failure by the City to meet the mandates might result in civil and/or criminal penalties and could result in the City’s sewer operations and capital repair programs being directed by higher regulatory agencies. To ensure our city’s water is safe and that the environment is not threatened, we must begin to rehabilitate and repair miles of damaged sewer lines that serve our City, its residents and businesses. It’s needed and frankly, it’s the law.
What happens if the repairs are not made?
Without repair, untreated sewage can leak into the ground from holes, fractures or offset joints. Obstructions can cause overflows into the street.
Holes in sewer pipes also allow groundwater to seep into the sewer system. If enough water enters the sewer system, it could overwhelm the sewer treatment plant in Fountain Valley, causing a major spill. Remember, Fullerton is just one of dozens of cities that use the Orange County Sanitation District’s collection and treatment system. How we maintain our system affects the quality of life outside of Fullerton as well.
If the repairs are not made, the ability of the City of Fullerton to provide a usable sewer system will be greatly impaired. It is also critical for residents and business owners to know the repairs are mandated through the Waste Discharge Requirements of the State Regional Water Quality Control Board and regulations established by the Federal Clean Water Act and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is the actual cost of the sewer service fee?
Fees will vary based on individual water usage. Residents will be charged based on 40% of their water consumption, to make allowance for landscape and recreational water usage that does not return to the sewer system. The proposed sewer fee will be $1.90 per 1,000 gallons of water consumed, or about $15 per month for the average residential customer. Remember, though, this is based on average water use, which can fluctuate based on time of year and other factors.
What is the focus of the Maintenance Services Department’s Sewer Division?
The Sewer Division maintains the City’s sanitary sewer mains. That’s more than 285 miles of sewer lines, ranging from small four inch pipes to huge 36-inch collector pipes. This includes scheduled and emergency maintenance and repairs. The Sewer Division is dedicated to the health and safety of Fullerton’s residents, as well as the environment.
What is the next step?
Based on an evaluation of our sewer system, approximately 50 percent of the current system or 750,000 feet out of a total of 1,500,000 feet of sewer pipe main needs some form of repair. The much-needed repair work also includes 3,000 manholes that require repair. This work will occur over the next 20 years. What’s important for the residents and businesses of Fullerton to know is that these repairs are needed to protect public health and insure proper functionality of the sewer utility, as well as to meet the state and federal requirements.
What is the Sewer Division currently working on?
The City of Fullerton, in its commitment to protecting the environment, sponsors a F.O.G. (Fats, Oils and Grease) Control Program aimed at keeping fats, oils and grease from entering our sewer system. Further, the City is working on a comprehensive Capital Repair Program to repair the deteriorated sewer system. Both of these programs are part of state- and federally-mandated programs to prevent costly and potentially hazardous sewer spills and failures.
The City also works with residents, businesses, and the construction industry to prevent pollutants from entering the storm drain system. Part of that program includes keeping untreated sewage out of the street in sewer lines where it belongs.
Why do we need a sewer fee?
Not only are the sanitation funds used for street sweeping, tree trimming, and storm drain projects, they also pay for the City’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) operating permit and other environmental issues. As I said in answering the question above, with all of the current required expenses, the Sanitation Fund does not generate sufficient revenue to pay for the necessary functions and provide for the mandated sewer maintenance and operation and capital improvement repairs as well. The only other alternative is to use the City’s General Fund, which pays for police, fire, library, and most other City services. As you know from reading the paper and watching the news, Fullerton is in the same situation as most other cities in California. Our General Fund has been impacted by the slow economy and revenue diversions to the state. Taking the money needed for sewer programs from the General Fund would eliminate or severely reduce these services.
How does the Maintenance Services Department serve the City of Fullerton?
The Maintenance Services Department protects the investment the community has made in its infrastructure - the streets, buildings, parks and other facilities that belong to all Fullerton residents. Maintenance Services and its 150 employees are responsible for a wide range of functions, including maintaining the City's automotive equipment, sidewalks, buildings, landscapes, parks, trees, streets, streetlights, graffiti removal and the maintenance and operation of the water and sewer systems.
Maintenance Services consists of six operating divisions: Building and Facility Maintenance, Equipment Maintenance, Landscape Maintenance, Street Maintenance, Water System Operations, and Sewer System Operations.
What makes the sewers so expensive to maintain and repair?
A sewer system is one of the most expensive utilities a city operates, and is probably the single most expensive utility owned by the City of Fullerton. There are several reasons; one of the major factors is the depth of sewer pipes. To protect drinking water supplies, sewer pipes are buried deeper than water supply lines. A typical water line may be five to seven feet underground, while a sewer line may be between 10 and 25 feet deep. Excavating to that depth is much more expensive because trenches have to be supported and more protective measures need to be in place. Another reason is that while repairs are being made, the sewer lines must be bypassed with auxiliary pipes so sewage won’t back up in the system. The bypass system must be leak-proof and requires round-the-clock monitoring. Another factor driving up the cost of sewer maintenance is the new Waste Discharge Requirement from the State of California, which requires us to perform periodic and expensive tests on the system.