Minds in the sewer
Living in a smaller community means knowing far more about certain topics than you'd like to know.
Like Baker City's sewage lagoons, for instance.
We can't imagine anyone enjoying this topic.
But it's an important topic, and we think you and your new city council need to give the sewer some more study.
Still not interested? Consider your wallet, then: since 2001, your monthly household sewer bill has gone up more than 100 percent from $5.54 to $13.50.
That $5.54 figure was arguably artificially low, since the city wasn't building a reserve to contend with sewer system maintenance and other challenges.
One looming challenge: that the state might restrict discharge of treated sewage water into the Powder River, necessitating what is known as "land application" to dispose of treated water.
That wouldn't be cheap, and so far hasn't been necessary.
Another challenge: never in their 40-year history have the lagoons at the sewage treatment plant been dredged.
That was why Baker City bought a flotilla of Pond Doctors, devices designed to promote the health of organisms that eat the sludge.
The city just paid the devices off. And they've done a good job, reducing the "islands" that had formed in the lagoons.
But the Pond Doctors can't do it all. The organisms the Docs foster won't feed on inorganic material like gravel and plastic. Nowadays, the sludge is in a holding pattern.
And that poses a very real challenge: if Baker City were to experience any growth, the sewer system might not be able to keep up.
That's why we think the Baker City Council needs to re-visit dredging the sewer lagoons.
Price dredging now, and try to forecast what it would cost in five or ten years. Then map sewer revenues and chart a course of small, manageable increases (if necessary) to cover the cost.
The city should also consider system development charges earmarked for the sewer system.
Public works employees think the sewer system is fine for the city as we know it now.
But growth would tax the sewer system, so the city should tax growth for the sewer.
Let's plan ahead now so 40 years from now we don't have to double or triple sewer rates to catch up with the cost of keeping the toilets flushing.