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serviced by the city. The postwar booms—in jobs, building, credit, babies, automobiles, and highways—changed the picture entirely. Development soon outran the provision of central city utility services. The demand for land plus the development of seemingly reliable home water and disposal facilities furthered the development of low-cost land which lacked water or sewer systems. Where ground water was readily available and septic tanks could be inexpensively installed, suburban development spread out and leapfrogged. As the process accelerated, it became increasingly difficult for central utility services to provide the newer areas, for the very patterns of development induced by reliance on individual facilities are uneconomic for community systems. The large lots required by suburban regulations in order to provide adequate drainage fields for septic tanks, make community utility development extremely expensive, particularly for sewers.

Individual systems have caused problems in almost every area where they have been employed. About 25 percent of all munici water is from ground sources; most of this is consumed in the suburbs. Ground water depletion caused by an excess of withdrawal over recharge has caused wells to dry up in a number of suburban areas. Chicago's suburbs, for example, have been extracting 20 percent more ground water than is being replaced through natural processes. Septic tanks have been installed where lot sizes or soil conditions insure that they will fail in a relatively short time. In suburban Lake County, in the Chicago metropolitan area, there is a heavy reliance on septic tanks although 75 percent of the soil in the county is unsuitable for individual sewage disposal systems. When septic tanks fail they can pollute the shallow ground water sources tapped by individual wells. Since 80 percent of all ground water is used without treatment, this process can and does—as in New York's Nassau County, the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., and the outlying portions of the Twin Cities metropolitan areacause well pollution and serious public health problems. On-site sewage disposal under excessive population densities or inadequate soil conditions also poses threats to water tables tapped by the deeper wells of public and private community systems.

For the homeowner, individual systems usually are a source of inconvenience and expense. Initial installation costs, in a development of any size, are generally higher than those of either a rudimentary community system or a connection to a central system. Upkeep, particularly for septic tanks, is higher than normal sewer use charges, ranging from $10 to $100 a year in most areas. As the system begins to fail, maintenance charges rise sharply. Fire insurance costs reflect the lessened protection available with individual water supply systems. And in most areas, the resale value of a home with individual systems is lower than one with community water and sewer service. Additional outlays inevitably are necessary when wells run dry or become polluted, or when the septic tank no longer works.

Since the homeowner generally is unaware that his original water and waste facilities are temporary, he resists proposals to build a community system until the hazards produce a crisis. Then the inclination is to take the cheapest alternative, usually a small, inefficient community system. Thus the homeowner pays twice for his water supply, and sometimes three times for sewage disposal, as the small community systems are absorbed into larger, more economical, and more logical collection and treatment systems. There is an inevitable element of civic disillusionment built into this costly process.

Solutions to the problems of development based on individual water systems are available. Stricter enforcement and stringent land development regulations are needed, particularly the adoption and enforcement of performance standards in the following areas: Local and county zoning and health codes, States health and resource use regulations, and Federal mortgage insurance activities at the field level. Another possible approach is the development of metropolitan water and sewer agencies with authority to regulate individual and small community utilities.

Yet in most areas public agencies have tackled the problem only after the inherent shortcomings of individual systems produce crises. Suburban communities still under development have been lax, in part because they fear to discourage builders. In addition, small communities often lack the resources to command trained personnel to enforce regulations. Further, there is a strong tendency in the suburbs to ignore situations which are going to cost money until they reach the peril point. Then the inclination usually is not toward thorough reforms, but to solutions which focus on short-range considerations. For example, in the suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul, when it became apparent that well pollution from septic tank effluents was widespread, many communities agreed to permit the State health department to survey wells for pollution only if the information was not released to the press, thus protecting them from adverse publicity. In 45 suburbs in the Twin Cities area, nearly half_22_took no action after being informed that their water supplies were contaminated. Nineteen sought to remedy the situation, in almost every case by contracting with one of the central cities or by developing a community ground water supply. Only two undertook to replace septic tanks with sewers, the required long-range action.12


The chief feature of water and sewage service in the core cities is the existence of centralized systems. Except for a few private municipal water systems, both utilities are in public hands in the central cities. Almost all the larger cities draw their water from surface sources. Most central cities provide sewer service to the majority of their residents, although sewage treatment ranges from none to the maximum 90 percent reduction in organic wastes feasible under present techniques.

The water problem is generally not seen as a pressing issue in the average central city, although it may well be an extremely serious problem in the metropolitan area. The central city resident experi, ences the problem spasmodically, usually during a drought or a bond referendum. Inadequate sewage treatment, the principal weakness in the central city, is much less likely to inconvenience the city dweller than his neighbors downstream. If insufficient treatment results in

12 Minnesota, Department of Health, "Water Supply and Sewage Disposal in the MinDeapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area" (December 1961), pp. 14-16.

polluted water supply and recreational areas, the villain usually is an upstream community over which the urbanite has little control.

Many central cities sell water and sewage disposal service to the suburbs under a contract system in which the central city controls the development and operation of the utility system. The relationship with the suburb is a commercial one. Individual and corporate customers outside the city normally have no representation on the city agency which operates the system. Nor do they have a voice in the development of plans and capital budgets.

In recent years the prevalent practice has been for the central city to wholesale water or sewage service to suburban communities, utility districts, or private companies, which in turn distribute water or collect sewage from individual customers. At present, under varieties of the wholesaling system, Chicago, Cleveland, and Portland, Oreg., supply water to almost 60 suburban communities each, New York City to 36 neighboring areas, and San Francisco to 40 cities and water districts. Fairly typical are the water contracts in Detroit and the sewage contracts employed in Minneapolis. The standard schedule of rates and charges established by the Detroit Water Board sets higher rates for the suburbs than for the city. In addition, the suburbs pay an extra charge if Detroit provides peak-hour storage facilities. When Detroit builds transmission mains outside the city limits to furnish water to a suburb, the community will pay a distance and elevation charge to cover the cost of construction.13 Minneapolis' sewer contracts call for a charge of $1 per connection for the maintenance of the city's sewer used by the suburb; a sewage treatment charge based on volume, if the sewage is metered, or on the number of connections; and a fixed charge to cover the suburb's share of the cost of providing additional capacity for the particular community.14

The contract system seldom covers an entire metropolitan area. For example, Wilmington, Del., supplies water to approximately 40 percent of the households in the heavily builtup areas outside the city limits. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, 842,000 people are supplied directly or under contract by the two central city water systems. Another 245,000 are serviced with ground water by 69 public and private systems. An additional 433,000 rely on individual home wells. However, in the Detroit area, the central city water system serves Detroit and the 47 other communities in the 6-county area through a variety of wholesaling arrangements.

Supporters of contracting defend the system on a number of grounds. They contend that the system extends the technical competence and financial capabilities of the central city, while sparing the suburbs the necessity of using their credit and bonding capacity to develop less efficient facilities. It is also argued that the system permits local control through the contract procedure. In addition, flexibility is achieved and local freedom of action is preserved since no community is compelled to contract with the central city.

Many of these alleged advantages are scored as weaknesses by critics of the contract system. In essence, contracting is a re

13 Gerald Remus, “Metropolitan Water Problems: Through Intergovernmental Cooperation, Detroit and Surrounding Communities Meet the Crucial Needs of a Metropolitan Area." Michigan Municipal Review, XXXIV (April 1961), p. 95.

14 Twin Cities Metropolitan Planning Commission, Metropolitan Sewage Study (St. Paul, 1960). p. 18.

lationship between customer and monopoly supplier. Although the “monopolist” often is benevolent, this arrangement is not representative government. The suburbs have no representation on the central city agency which provides the service. When clashes arise over rates and service, or over supply during periods of shortage—and such conflicts are endemic to the contract system—the central city, because of its disproportionate bargaining position, usually prevails. Complaints, such as those in Cleveland's suburbs, that nearly half the users of Cleveland water have no political control over the water suppy, are common.

The unequal relationship produces antagonisms that are often expressed by blaming the central city for all service shortcomings, although the trouble usually results from inadequate local distribution and collection systems. Since the central city voters must approve bond issues for improvements that benefit both residents and contracting communities, the suburbs' water and sewer service levels are determined by political processes over which they have no control. In the Los Angeles area, improvements and additions to the city's sewage collection and treatment system vital to a number of suburbs have been delayed or shelved because of the failure of Los Angeles voters to approve the necessary bond issues.

Further, the supplier-customer relationship generally is not conducive to a wise or equitable employment of a metropolitan area's resources in terms of its future pattern of development. Central cities extend services because of the promise of profits with little capital investment, especially when excess capacity is being sold. Sound met ropolitan development is at best a secondary consideration. The cities have been reluctant to increase their bonded indebtedness to finance extensions and new facilities once contracts are let for the excess capacity.

METROPOLITAN APPROACHES Despite the fact that many central city-surburban contract relationships are satisfactory and mutually beneficial, most studies evaluating the provision of water and sewage service have recommended metropolitan approaches rather than the development or improvement of a contract system. The economic benefits to be derived from area wide utility planning and development, and the fact that political boundaries bisect watersheds and drainage basins, are powerful arguments for structural change in those metropolitan areas where water responsibilities are fragmented, investment is inadequate, and suburban development is hampered by the shortcomings of individual systems.

For the general public, economies of scale are probably the most appealing arguments for metropolitan approaches to the provision of water and waste disposal service. Per capita investment for a sewage treatment plant to serve half a million people is 75 percent of that of a facility serving 50,000. There are also considerable savings in per capita operating costs with larger facilities. For example, it costs an average of $58 per million gallons to provide primary sewage treatment with á million-gallon capacity treatment plant, but $23 for a 10million-gallon-capacity plant and $8 for a hundred-million-gallon plant.

Of course, economies of scale can be achieved on a less than metropolitan basis. In the larger metropolitan areas and in those with more than one watershed or drainage basin, it is possible for submetropolitan development to offer comparable or greater economies of scale than areawide approaches, and to be more feasible politically.

Another economic factor favoring comprehensive development is the protection that it offers against unwise local investments. Small facilities, particularly for sewage disposal and treatment, are excessively expensive to operate, obsolesce rapidly, and rarely provide the long-range solution that a comprehensive program can insure. Suburbs jealous of their autonomy often have preferred uneconomic individual community facilities to membership in a larger system. However, postwar experience in the Seattle and Denver metropolitan areas illustrates that in many instances community plants will eventually be abandoned. For the suburbanite who began with an individual treatment system, this poses the possibility of a triple investment: First, a septic tank; second, a community treatment facility; and, third, a regional sewage disposal and treatment system. James R. Ellis, a key figure in the creation of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, has underscored the foolhardiness of unwise small community sewage facilities:

If we are ever to have utility services at reasonable cost we must be prepared to make the long-term investment required and to stop pouring dollars down the rathole of inadequate facilities, many of which will be obsolete before they are paid for. The economic waste in stubbornly duplicating permanent sewage disposal and water supply facilities cannot be justified under any rational theory of local autonomy.16

In most metropolitan areas, however, political realities rather than engineering, planning, and public administration considerations are the crucial factors affecting the possibility of altering the structural base for planning, allocating, and applying public resources. The chances of achieving structural changes in a particular metropolitan area depend primarily on attitudes, timing, and the pattern of interest groups as they conflict, compete, and cooperate.

Crises in health, service, or financing, actual or impending, generally are required to secure sufficient consensus to launch a metropolitan water-sewage program. Hostility to Los Angeles' annexation policies, the dire need of southern California for additional water, and a desire to enhance the area's bargaining position at the State and Federal levels led to the creation of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Fragmentation of effort and inadequate financial resources led to the creation of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District in 1954. Severe water pollution and an increase in the rate of infectious hepatitis spurred the creation of a tricounty sanitary agency

a in the Portland, Oreg., area. The grave danger of sewage effluents threatening Lake Washington, a prime recreational area, resulted in the creation of a metropolitan agency in Seattle with responsibilities limited to the development of a regional waste disposal system.


The dominant approach to date in providing water and sewage service on a regional basis is the single-purpose agency with no other service responsibilities, such as the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago, and the Metro

16 James R. Ellis, "Government for Growth, the Seattle Story." address before the Section of Municipal Law of the American Bar Association, Aug. 27, 1958.

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