More people in Fort Mill means more water, more clean water and "smarter" water are needed. But they won't come cheap.
The town is looking at $42 million for an expansion of its wastewater treatment plant. For perspective, the entire town budget for the current fiscal year was set at just under $48 million.
That budget set aside $4.5 million for designing the plant upgrades, the first phase of the upgrades and a million gallon water storage tank. The town expects most of the $42 million needed to expand its wastewater plant, about $35 million, will come through the state revolving fund.
The revolving fund operates through South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. It provides low interest loans for water and wastewater system construction, repair or expansion. If a project can demonstrate "innovative green practices" for water or energy reduction, it can qualify for an incentive loan rate.
In 2013, Rock Hill got approval for an expansion at its water treatment plant at a little more than $4 million through the revolving fund. High efficiency pumps, lighting and similar "green" features got Rock Hill the Green Project Reserve approval for 40 percent of the loan amount.
A separate town cost in Fort Mill has green intentions, too. The town has new meter reading and data collection technology where information is collected and sent by cellular transmission to a cloud-based server. It makes meter reading more timely, efficient and accurate, according to town staff.
It also requires a new kind of meter. Replacing the roughly 6,000 meters for existing customers would cost $4.2 million. It'll take an outside contractor to install them all, bringing the total project to $4.7 million.
The new meter and wastewater plant project are being discussed by town leaders ahead of a new town budget starting Oct. 1. The town utility budget is just one piece of it.
"The information in committee meetings is in draft form," said Mayor Guynn Savage, who said town council will make any final call. "This is not a decision."
Still, the upgrades are worth considering. Town leaders are looking at funding options now, but it's likely the meter replacement and wastewater plant borrowing will be rolled into one request.
"It certainly sounds like an opportunity we need to look at," Savage said.
As of June 1, the state revolving fund had 70 projects looking for funding. The Fort Mill plant work tied with a wastewater improvement in Lexington, at about 13 percent of the Fort Mill job's cost, for the top spot on the prioritized list. The Fort Mill work would expand the plant's capacity from 3 million to 4.5 million gallons per day while helping to meet anticipated nitrogen and phosphorus limits.
Rock Hill has three projects on the list, the highest ranked No. 18. Rock Hill is the dominant water and wastewater provider in the county, serving its own city residents along with Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Carolina Water Service and more. Most water consumed in York County comes initially from Rock Hill's intake on Lake Wylie. Rate changes in Rock Hill impact rates countywide via pass-through costs.
Rock Hill's listed projects through the state program include $70.5 million for the Manchester Creek wastewater plant for improvements and a new storage tank, another $54.7 million there to improve efficiency and remove nutrients while adding capacity, and $4 million for stormwater improvements at Cavendale Drive and College Downs to prevent flooding.
A 2016 study found Rock Hill would need to add 30 million gallons per day in capacity. The city has a permitted design capacity at just 20 million gallons, and can exceed its peak hydraulic capacity of 50 million gallons during wet conditions.
Last fall, Rock Hill City Council approved more than $118 million in upgrades to the wastewater site, as part of an expected $164 million in overall upgrades to treatment facilities.
In addition to the Fort Mill and three Rock Hill projects, the state revolving fund list includes $1.18 million for improvements at the wastewater treatment plant in Lancaster and a $1 million evaluation of Fort Lawn's sewer system in Chester County.
The Fort Mill wastewater plant work wouldn't start until, at best, November or December. The work is likely to take two years. If the town decides on the new water meter reading technology, they could be in place within months using an outside contractor to install them.