Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:
Question: I’ve been doing light research on the history of water and sewer in North Carolina since colonization. After one day this question emerges immediately: If we’ve neglected the water infrastructure in Asheville, the sewer system is likely as bad or worse. What is the 2023 state of our sewer system? How many miles of old pipes? How much leakage? Is leakage monitored like fresh water? What’s our budget for maintenance? Do we have a problem comparable to water works? While hotels claim not to overstress the fresh water, how is that development overworking the sewer system?
My answer: I can see how this would go down in a bar when this dude meets a lady.
Woman: “So, what kinds of hobbies do you have?”
Sewer aficionado: “Oh, me? I’m into light research on our sewer system.”
Woman: “Uh, I just remembered I’m late for my root canal.”
Sewer aficionado: “But it’s midnight.”
Woman: “It’s at a 24-hour dental hut here in town. Gotta run. Ta-ta!”
Real answer: In the Asheville area, the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County handles the vast majority of sewage for the area.
Created in 1962 by a state statute, MSD was designed to eliminate direct discharges into streams and rivers, called “straight piping,” and to replace ailing sewer infrastructure, according to a presentation on the MSD website. The new regional treatment plant came online in 1967, and a new hydroelectric facility in 1984.
In 1991, MSD engaged in a consolidation effort, treating wastewater for local towns and sanitary sewer districts. MSD now serves Asheville, Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain, Montreat and Weaverville, as well as 10 special districts.
In all, MSD serves about 201,000 people through 57,000 customer accounts. The system has about 1,100 miles of sewer lines, 33,581 manholes and 40 pump stations.
“I am happy to report that MSD has a good story to tell about the state of our current sewer system,” General Manager Tom Hartye told me via email, noting that MSD is a regional utility, not a municipality, serving the five towns and cities in the area, as well as the unincorporated areas of both Buncombe and Henderson Counties.
“MSD has spent over $400 million in the last 25 years both rehabbing and replacing components in the collection system (sewers and pump stations) and the Treatment Plant,” Hartye said. “This has helped us keep ahead of both the regulatory changes and growth over time.”
Hartye, a professional engineer, noted that those 1,100 miles of public sewer line were “all cleaned and videoed on the inside to assess their condition back in the early 2000’s.” Also, MSD developed a “pipe rating program,” and it won an a National Environmental Achievement Award in 2003, Hartye said.
“This program incorporated those video tapes along with logging exact location and type of defects and coupled this with operational data to calculate a rating for each pipe segment in our system,” Hartye said. “This rating is used to prioritize our aggressive capital reinvestment construction program to replace the worst pipes first.”
MSD has replaced 251 miles of sewer line, or more than 1.3 million linear feet.
Hartye provided a graph that shows sanitary sewer overflows over the last 22 years, and it has steadily declined. In 2000, the number stood at 288, but it had dropped to 11 by 2011.
As far as capacity and possible impact from hotels and other building, MSD is also in good shape there, too. The sewage treatment plant in Woodfin is rated for 40 million gallons per day.
“Last year our average flow was 21.7 MGD,” Hartye said. “So, in terms of plant capacity and allocated capacity, MSD is fine. But we do have major projects constructing new processes to meet future regulations.”
Hartye said MSD recently passed a 10-year, $380-million capital improvement plan for upcoming construction.
“This program will provide for both future demand and future regulatory requirements for our 50-year planning period,” Hartye said.
Two major projects coming up are the Treatment Plant biological upgrade at $70 million, and the Carrier Bridge Pump Station upgrade at $50 million. The Carrier Bridge Pump Station is MSD’s largest, and its upgrade will involve upgrading larger sewer interceptors as well, Hartye said.
Unlike the city of Asheville’s water system, which is owned and operated by the city, MSD is a regional entity, governed by a 14-member board of directors. The board includes three members each from Asheville and Buncombe County, two from Henderson County and one representative from Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain, Montreat, Weaverville, Woodfin Sanitary Water and Sewer District, and the Town of Woodfin.
The board is solely responsible for setting rates and fees for service. Each year, the board elects Its chairman, vice-chairman and secretary-treasurer. Board members serve staggered three-year terms and may be re-appointed.
Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-337-0941.