The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) has an enormous bond issue on the ballot next week, for $945 million! Even in a post-bailout America, that is a lot of money.
I do not know how I am going to vote on this issue. The project is going to be done and rates are going to increase either way. If the bond issue passes, rates will increase slowly, but bond financing will have to be added to the total costs. If the bond issue fails, rates will increase more substantially right away, but we would not have to pay an estimated $200 million in bond financing costs. (My $200 million estimate comes from the bottom of page 7 here.) Pay more now or pay more later. I am probably leaning toward paying more now, but each voter is going to have to make that choice for himself or herself and their families, and I certainly understand those wanting to take a more long-term view.
I do not blame MSD for this. Kansas City is going through a very similar process, as are cities around the country. I blame unnecessarily strict EPA rules designed to prevent occasional releases of sewage during extremely heavy storms and to eliminate the use of combined sewers. I also blame time and the aging process.
Nobody wants sewage releases, and everyone wants safe water. The issue arises when federal regulators require local sewer authorities to spend billions of dollars for comparatively small increases in water quality. Perhaps cost should not matter because it is for the kids. But we do not live in fairyland, we do not spread magic dust, and costs do matter; as does regulatory overreach.
Could MSD have done a better job in recent decades updating the system to prepare for this? Almost certainly, but at some point it was going to be necessary to do a massive upgrade of an old sewer system; EPA regulations or not. The EPA regulations will do what the federal government usually does: take an issue and make it larger, more expensive, more litigious, and more intrusive. But that is our fault for allowing the federal government to grow to a size where it gets to dictate so much of our lives; it is not MSD’s fault.
People who are better able to comment on the technical, engineering aspect of the issue should feel free to chime in via the comments.