CHICO, Calif. - The City of Chico has seen a population explosion, and it's not just the roads that are impacted. Post-Camp Fire sewage production numbers are at an all-time high.
Action News Now reporter Stephanie Lin sat down with Public Works' Eric Gustafson for a closer look at the cause behind all the waste. He reports seeing an average of a million gallons extra per day being pushed through the city's treatment facilities.
"Multiple family members or friends are staying in one household," Gustafson explains, "so that's double the flow from one household but the [charged sewage] rate is still the same."
The same idea applies to those living in RVs connecting to sewer hook-ups on one shared property. Then there's all the septage from Cal OES, FEMA, and PG&E base camps. Add all these sources together, and you've got one big costly problem.
"If those increased flows continue, there will be increased costs, and we will have to go to council for increased funds," Gustafson says.
Chico Public Works is now working on a rate analysis to determine if a rate increase should happen to help with waste processing costs and fixing the 90-year-old underground plumbing system that supports the city.
Chicoans now pay the lowest sewer rates out of all cities in the area: $22.98 per month. Compare this to Orland's $26.10, Sacramento's $32 and Napa's $42.83.
Before the fire, Chico's wastewater treatment facility processed about 6 million gallons of waste on average per day. Since then that amount has gone up to 7 million. Biosolid production has gone up 70%, while overall waste and sewage flows are up 17%.
Gustafson tells Action News Now, the facility is able to handle a capacity of 12 million gallons of waste per day. But, the city is currently equipped to take on an amount over a decade of growth, rather than overnight.
Public Works plans to present their rate analysis to city council late spring. Once that is done, the public will also be able to chime in.
No rate changes will happen until there is at least a 51% approval. Conversations also continue with state legislators to hopefully find a fast fix to the sewage problem.
In the meantime, the work continues to maintain the expected quality of life for Chicoans and their new neighbors.
"We want Paradise folks to know they are welcome in Chico, and hope they can find a bit of normalcy," Gustafson emphasizes.