As it pieces together a long-term overhaul of San Francisco’s underground sewage infrastructure, The City’s Public Utilities Commission is scrambling to fix an array of faulty pipelines in the meantime.
With a month left in the fiscal year, the SFPUC has already undertaken five emergency construction projects to repair crumbling sewage pipes. Last fiscal year, it needed to carry out three such operations. Only one emergency construction project was necessary in 2010, said SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue.
The utility provider typically replaces about three to four miles of pipeline annually, Jue said, but this fiscal year that effort was increased to 15 miles, which necessitated a high number of emergency contracts.
“We are proactively identifying more failures and conducting more repairs,” Jue said. “Unfortunately, some of the repairs have been more urgent, needing emergency work.”
Emergency construction projects are contracted-out undertakings in which crews are called in to immediately fix pipeline problems that are noticed during maintenance inspections.
The projects are not cheap. An average dig can range from $300,000 to $500,000, Jue said. The SFPUC’s wastewater operating budget is $241.6 million.
The agency also is working to formulate a multibillion-dollar plan to completely overhaul sewage infrastructure.
Called the Sewer System Improvement Program, the final costs of the program are still being tallied — making critical upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant will cost $3 billion alone.
“There are parts of our aging collection and treatment system that can no longer rely on Band-Aid fixes,” Jue said.
The SFPUC plans on financing this massive project by releasing bonds that will be paid back through utility increases passed on to customers. Until the scope of the project has been finalized, those increases cannot be determined, Jue said.
Although the bond measure does not need to go before voters, the SFPUC and the Board of Supervisors both have to approve rate increases before they’re implemented. The bond measure is likely to take 30 years to be repaid.
The SFPUC will continue to aggressively pursue its maintenance efforts until the sewer improvement program is implemented.
Emergency construction sites:
Note: All projects have been completed except for Page Street