By Shereen Siewert

Wausau residents will see significant increases in their water and sewer bills between now and 2022, due in part to a roughly $132 million upgrade to the city’s drinking water and sewage treatment plants.

After all increases are implemented drinking water rates will increase by 32%, while sewer rates will spike by 63%.

State regulators authorized the rate hikes after a public hearing last month.

In August, Lindman said the decision to move the existing facilities was based on a pilot study to determine the city’s best option moving forward. The plan calls for building a new drinking water treatment center, currently located on North River Drive south of Wausau Chemical, to the city’s northwest side at a cost of roughly $45 million. Wausau has until the end of 2021 to replace the plant, now located at 700 Bugbee Ave., according to a deadline given by the Wisconsin Department of Resources. Officials also note that the plant, built more than 50 years ago, lies in a flood plain.

The wastewater treatment facility, constructed in the 1930s, will undergo a roughly $87 million upgrade.

Rate increases have now been finalized, according to a news release Friday from Public Works Director Eric Lindman. Drinking water will increase by 29% on July 1, followed by a 3% increase in January.

That means the water bill for an average residential customer will increase from $229 per year to just over $300 in 2021. That amount includes the public fire protection charge and is calculated based on the average residential customer with a 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch meter using 1,300 cubic feet of water per quarter. 

The sewer rate will increase by 22% on Oct. 1, which will cost the average residential customer about an extra $100 per year. That increase will be followed by an additional 22% increase in July 2021, then 9% in October 2022.

Wausau Waterworks proposes borrowing the funds using the Clean Water Fund Program, a federally subsidized loan program. The program is a federal-state partnership that provides communities a permanent, independent source of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects. About $1.8 million of the loan is forgivable, according to city documents.

The Wausau Waterworks Commission will review and vote on the final loan borrowing at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday June 2, in the City Council Chambers.

The City Council will vote on the loan borrowing at 6:30 p.m. on June 9, also in the City Council Chambers.

The sewer upgrades will allow the current facility to meet new, stricter phosphorous and capacity requirements set by the DNR while improving safety, reliability and performance, officials said.

The city contracted with Sheboygan-based Donohue and Associates for design services, at an estimated cost of $1,113,875.

The sewer facility upgrades are meant to enhance safety, reliability and performance for the facility, which was constructed in three phases beginning in 1939.

Wastewater treatment facilities that discharge to Wisconsin water bodies, such as Wausau’s, are regulated by the Department of Natural Resources through the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Wausau’s current permit, required because of discharge to the Wisconsin River, expired on Dec. 30, 2015, according to city documents. The next permit will include a low-level phosphorous limit that the current facility is not equipped to comply with.

Lindman said the rate increases not only cover the facility upgrades but also reflect the increased cost of maintenance, operations and other capital projects.

“These projects and increases in rates will create a healthy and stable utility moving into the future,” Lindman said, in his release.