Hugo residents see sewage rate spike

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HUGO, Okla. (KXII) -- After months of issues with the city's water quality, Hugo water customers say they are now being charged more for water that they say hasn't gotten any better.

Veteran John Roberts was homeless for a year before moving into his Hugo apartment in March with the help of a grant that helps veterans with living costs. He says that grant money is running out. Living is becoming costly for Roberts now that his sewage rate has increased by more than 300% after the first 1000 gallons of water. He says it's an increase he can't afford.

"I only get a $190 a month in food stamps, and if you consider that part of my income, that's my only income," said Roberts.

Back in August, Severn Trent, a water company contracted through Hugo, received a record $3.17 million fine from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. As a result, Hugo City Manager David Rawls says they are having to make changes to the municipal water treatment facility and sewer lines to comply with a consent order issued by the DEQ, costing Hugo $4.2 million. Upgrades include repairs to a mile of half-century old sewage lines, a new generator that runs 24/7 at the water plant, and a new aeration system.

Hugo received a loan-grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pay for the upgrades. The grant covers 30 percent of the $4.2 million in expenses. Residents will pay 70 percent of that over a 40-year period.

"We've all experienced nausea headaches and diarrhea," said Hugo resident Lee Strieby.

Just last month, his niece spent a week in the hospital recovering from a ruptured abscess. Doctors told Strieby it was likely caused by a parasite.

"Well we're positive it came from the water..and at this particular time, this was just a few months ago, we had no idea this water could cause what it did to her," Strieby told News 12.

A little over a week ago, Hugo sent out letter to residents warning drinking water from July 2014 through June 2015 may have contained disease-causing organisms. That's why residents like Roberts say they are not ready to trust the water. So in the meantime, he's going thirsty.

"The Food bank here has given me some bottled water a few times, you know once a month. The last time they gave me Pepsi, though the last time, I'd rather just have water," said Roberts.

The city says improvements to the water treatment facility and sewage lines could take 18 months to complete.