How Grand Rapids officials are working to keep water, sewage rates down

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – If you think you’re flushing more money down the toilet with increased water and sewer bills, you’re not alone. For residents who get water from Grand Rapids, both water and sewage rates rose this year, according to the Citizen’s Guide to the Water Sewer Rate Study.

On average, water rates rose 3.63%, while sewage disposal rose 0.36%.

But efforts are being made to keep your water and sewage rates at a minimum.

But after digging a bit deeper, it’s safe to say a lot of people living in the greater Grand Rapids area are actually going to see their sewer rates go down, which has a lot to do partnerships, technology, and the Water Resource Recovery Facility.

“We probably can’t get ahead of the increased cost of electricity, chemicals, or people, or other things we pay for, but we can slow down that rate increase by doing things that shave costs,” said Mike Lunn, manager of the environmental services department at the Water Resource Recovery Facility.

This is done by replacing old equipment with energy efficient machinery, by replacing old bulbs with LEDs. “We replaced some older blowers with some newer blowers, and that saves us a couple hundred thousand dollars a year in energy.”

A new online e-coli measurement device is saving the plant $60,000.

The city's water filtration plant is making similar moves, says Joellen Thompson, water system manager of the Grand Rapids Water System. “As some of our equipment ages, we replace it with more energy-efficient equipment,” she said. “We’re replacing water mains, along with a lot of street projects.”

The city is also partnering with other communities hoping to cut costs.

Grand Rapids is working with the Grand Valley Regional Bio Solids Authority in Wyoming in an effort to to better manage bio solids, says Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong. “By working together with our partner communities, we’re able to collaborate and keep costs down,” he said.

Still, some residents' water rates went up this year.

“If operating costs go up or even build flow goes down, for example, then rates will change,” DeLong said. “We look at everything having to do with operating costs per year: how they may have changed; look at capital costs; what we’ve invested; what new water mains, tanks, or sewers, or treatment works we’ve brought into service. All of that is factored into changing the rates.”

Lunn will be at Speak Easy on February 7 at 8:00 p.m. presenting “Fresh to Flush,” including the history of the Grand River and history of waste water in the Grand River.

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