Energy & Environment Committee
Liesel M. Gross
Lehigh County Authority
Most of us don’t think about what happens when the toilets flush and what it takes to ensure they keep flushing. In Lehigh County, about 40 million gallons of sewage flows nearly unnoticed from our homes and businesses every day through a network of pipes, pump stations and treatment facilities that was conceived decades ago by visionary leaders. The community’s investment in a regional sewer system was certainly needed to support the region’s economic development goals. But you may not realize that the sewer system has also been the region’s single largest investment in environmental and public health protection as well. Imagine one single day without sewer service!
Now, our sewer infrastructure needs serious attention. The Lehigh County system nears design capacity almost every day. When it rains, like it did for most of 2018 and 2019, the system can become overwhelmed by all the incoming additional flow.
The key to solving regional sewer problems will be to bring all municipalities together to develop a Sewage Facilities Plan, known as an Act 537 Plan. Essentially, we must predict future sewer needs over the next several decades, then complete engineering and financial analyses to determine how those needs will be met. The plan will take several years to complete and will include an assessment of more than 900 miles of interconnected sewer lines, over 50,000 individual system connections, and a wastewater treatment plant that includes components that are nearly 100 years old. Future project costs are currently estimated at nearly $300 million.
Public participation, regulatory support and financial investment from the local economy will be required both during the planning phase to ensure growth can continue as appropriate while the plan is being developed, and for many years to come to ensure the toilets keep flushing and the environment is protected.