A lot of things come in threes. Rings at the circus. Strikes. Stooges. French hens. Little pigs. Wheels on a tricycle. Flavors in Neapolitan ice cream.

And apparently sewage spills into West Grand Traverse Bay during summertime downpours. That is if the most recent gush of putrid wastewater sent downstream in the Boardman River is the last for the season.

We sure hope that 1,200 gallon spill is the final flush for the summer of 2020, but our hopes aren’t high. That’s because it appears our infrastructure simply hasn’t been a priority for generations of city leaders. For that matter, buried infrastructure like stormwater and sanitary sewer systems haven’t been spending priorities in most cities and towns across the U.S. during the past five decades.

The underlying problems almost certainly aren’t the making of current city commissioners and staffers, but they’re the ones left handling the stinky result.

And that crumbling buried infrastructure seems particularly important here.

Now, like accruing interest on a credit card, the unpaid debt racked up by years of inadequate investment is due, and we appear ill-equipped to address it.

It’s not like we didn’t know our underground infrastructure was in less-than-ideal condition. A 2017 study told city leaders they needed to invest millions each year to bring the dilapidated pipes into working order.

Unfortunately, the underground problem didn’t get much attention until it bubbled to the surface. Now, thanks to high water, and more frequent heavy rain caused by climate change, the timeline for finding and fixing the system’s weak points is much more dire.

It appears the downpours we experienced so far this summer aren’t 50-, 100-, or 200-year occurrences anymore. They’ve become monthly deluges, and have proven the problems permeating our buried infrastructure can’t be put off to be addressed through a longer, slower investment trickle.

Instead, it appears we are set for some sticker shock, the kind of budget pinch that will ask city leaders to decide between wants, needs and imperatives.

And at this point, fixing the system that continues to spill sewage into our beloved freshwater bay is an imperative.

This article appeared in the Traverse City Record Eagle. Read more here.