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Stop blaming the rain and fix the problem!

It rained over the Christmas holiday.

In fact, it rained fairly hard, dumping a great deal of water over this region, a fact that is not unusual this time of the year.

Okay, you're wondering why this simple fact of nature is worth reading about?

Perhaps it's not news -- but it does underscore an important problem facing Franklin County that needs to be faced in a pro-active manner sooner rather than later.

The longer this problem is ignored, the more costly the "fix" will ultimately be.

Rain is as normal as the sunrise, but Franklin County is not prepared for its consequences.

Once again, on Christmas Eve this time, the county experienced what it likes to call a "bypass" of untreated wastewater from a main sewer line on Railroad Street in Youngsville.

What a "bypass" really means is that untreated sewage was simply dumped out of the system because there was so much "inflow" of rain water that the system couldn't handle the volume.

That untreated sewage, all 31,500 gallons of it, flowed into an unnamed tributary of Richland Creek. And, most likely, that 31,500 gallon total is merely an estimate because spills like this are devilishly difficult to measure.

This isn't the first spill by the county sewage system this year -- in fact, there were actually two on Christmas Eve alone. In 2014, they reported 23.

The second one was blamed on an electrical equipment failure at a Franklinton pump station -- possibly caused by the heavy rains.

That spill dumped "only" 6,000 gallons of untreated sewage into a tributary of Cedar Creek.

Not long ago, the county reported that it had a spill that dumped more than 80,000 gallons of untreated sewage into a creek.

And there were several other spills this year alone.

The excuse for most of these spills was heavy rainfall -- but surely we all expect periods of heavy rainfall in North Carolina. It's been happening for eons -- and hopefully won't be stopping anytime soon.

Each of the spills was, as it must be, reported to the state Division of Water Quality.

Even in its current, stripped-down-by-politicians status, DWQ is going to start taking a dim view of these spills which can imperil drinking water downstream, meaning Wake County.

The next step will be fines, sanctions and orders to fix the problems because the problems are quite fixable given a little time and enough money.

Franklin County, in 2013, bought Youngville's utility system and is scheduled to close on the purchase of Franklinton's utility system in 2015, bringing both those systems into the county's infrastructure.

But with these purchases comes not just revenue, which the county seems to be salivating over, but responsibility.

These systems must be run properly, designed properly to handle rainfall and maintained over the long term.

As best we can tell, Franklin County has no long-term plan to repair, replace or construct new utility infrastructure, all of which can take years and cost millions.

Rightfully, those repairs should to be "enterprise funded," meaning that only users of the system are burdened, not all county taxpayers. That drastically restricts who will pay for that construction, maintenance and operation and likely will result in higher utility rates for county customers.

But if the state is forced to step in and starts levying fines, that will drive the cost up even higher.

As a new year begins, we'd like to see the county take a proactive, realistic look at getting its growing but aging and poorly maintained utility systems in better condition -- without having the state start making demands.

Utilities are crucial to the county's future -- and it's simply morally right not to endanger the drinking water of others because we absurdly maintain that all our problems are caused by rainfall!

The county brags that it is "committed to effective and innovative public services for all Franklin County citizens and businesses."

It's time to make that more than a cheap slogan and to do so requires a comprehensive, professional and well-funded long-range plan to fix these problems!


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