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County may require sewer hookups

Mandatory sewer hookup notices may be mailed in January to residents of Spokane Valley and suburban portions of Spokane County for the first time in more than three years.

County commissioners informally agreed with the proposal by Utilities Director Bruce Rawls, subject to assurances later this year that plans for a new sewage treatment plant are on schedule.

In mid-2003, commissioners suspended a requirement for homeowners to connect to the sewer system because it appeared the county would run out of capacity at the Spokane municipal treatment plant before the county could build its own plant.

In other words, new Commissioner Bonnie Mager said, the county chose to allow continued use of old septic tanks over the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer so developers could continue to build new homes.

That’s one way of looking at it, Rawls said, but he preferred to see “a balancing act” in which the county managed its capacity to provide the best overall service. Even without a requirement to connect to the sewer system, more people did so than had been expected, he said.

When hookups became optional in 2003, county officials continued to send notices each year when sewers became available in new areas. Rawls hoped only 25 percent of those who were eligible would hook up to the sewer, but about 40 percent did so.

With about 20,000 customers connected to county sewers, Rawls said the county now has used 7.5 million to 7.8 million of the 10 million gallons per day of capacity it is contractually allowed to use at the Spokane treatment plant. He said he expects to hit the limit by the end of 2013.

The five-year, phased plan Rawls presented to commissioners Tuesday calls for getting some 9,000 homes in urban and suburban portions of the Spokane Valley and suburban areas north of Francis Avenue connected by 2013. Property owners are to be advised in groups every January for five years that they have one year to convert from septic tanks to sewers.

The notifications will begin with the same groups that have been notified of sewer availability in each of the past four years. People notified in 2003 and 2004 would have to connect in 2008; those notified in 2005 and 2006, in 2009.

In addition, people notified this year and next would have to hook up in 2010; those notified in 2009 and 2010 would have to connect in 2011; and those notified in 2011 would be required to hook up in 2012.

The idea is to allow a “manageable workload” for the limited number of contractors available for the work, Rawls said.

He said he wants the work to be completed as soon as possible so new sewer user fees can help pay for the county’s new $134 million treatment plant, but not so fast that the county runs out of capacity at the Spokane plant before the county’s plant is ready.