Wednesday, August 30, 2023–11:58 p.m.
-David Crowder, WRGA News-
City of Rome water and sewer customers will soon be getting some relief on their bills, as a rate rollback goes into effect on Friday.
The Rome City Commission had increased rates to pay for a new “reverse osmosis” facility to filter Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, and other chemicals from its drinking water supply on the Oostanaula River. Rome also filed suit in 2019 against several chemical and carpet manufacturers upstream to recover those costs. Once settlements were reached in that civil action, it was announced that water and sewer rates would be rolled back to where they were in December 2018.
“Hopefully, your average homeowner is going to see something in the order of $10 to $15 in savings per billing cycle,” said Rome City Manager Sammy Rich. “That will be something that our residents and customers can look forward to.”
Rome began the process of converting its raw water intake filtering facility for “reverse osmosis” treatment in 2016, following health advisories issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding PFAS. The water intake was switched from the Oostanaula River to the Etowah River and plans began for the new treatment facility, which was estimated at around $100 million. Rome will receive an estimated $159 million from the settlements. The rate hike also allowed the water and sewer department to build up a reserve for the construction of the filtration plant, had the suit not been successful. As of July, that reserve was at $132 million.
As part of the agreement, the city will not raise rates due to PFAS issues in the future. At this point, the city is not issuing refunds stemming from past rate hikes, pending the resolution of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court filed by Rome resident Jarrod Johnson. City Attorney Andy Davis said they expect a settlement in that case will address refunds.
The reverse osmosis facility was originally planned for the current water treatment site on Blossom Hill. However, it was determined that it would be less risky and expensive to locate the facility behind the Department of Family and Children Services building on Riverside Parkway. Earlier this month, Rome Water and Sewer Services Director Mike Hackett said the design for the facility is about 40 percent complete, and he believes they can still meet the 2026 deadline. In March, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced new proposed legal limits for PFAS at just four parts per trillion. Those regulations are expected to be finalized by the end of this year.
The PFOAS and PFAS chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals,” are widely used to make carpets and other items stain-resistant. The chemicals have been linked to numerous adverse health impacts and break down very slowly, so they persist in the environment for a long time.