Area sewer districts are faced with making costly upgrades to their systems to come into compliance with new water quality standards.
Some improvements could require rate hikes for customers, officials say.
The city of Washington will not have to make upgrades to its plant because it is only about five years old and was designed to be in compliance with stricter rules from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
“We should be in good shape,” said Kevin Quaethem, city of Washington water and wastewater superintendent.
For instance, he said the plant was designed to remove ammonia and nitrogen.
This means city residents will be spared the burden of financing costly upgrades that may fall on sewer districts in the county.
Public Water Supply District No. 1, which serves the Krakow area with water and sewer services, will have to make upgrades to its system to comply with the new rules, said Joe Feldmann, president of the district’s board.
In fact, he said improvements to the system have already begun, but he said it is hard to say how much they will ultimately cost because they are being phased in over time.
The district continues to make rate increases to keep up with its debt service and so far improvements have been covered by standard rate hikes, he said.
However, Feldmann said future system improvements could require higher rate increases but no decisions have been made.
Feldmann noted that the district’s water distribution system will now require chlorination.
The district has five or six different treatment facilities that discharge into a number of different watersheds, ultimately flowing into St. John’s Creek or Busch Creek.
The Missouri Clean Water Commission recently approved the new rules to “place additional protection, in the form of pollutant limits, on 2,100 lakes and 90,000 miles of rivers and streams that were previously unclassified in Missouri,” according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Work is still under way to combine three sewer districts as well as Purina Farms into one wastewater permit holder in order to more feasibly meet the new water quality standards.
Combining the sewer districts in Labadie, Beauty View Acres and Gray Summit as well as Purina Farms into one district will allow the cost of treatment upgrades to be spread across more people to create an “economy of scale,” said Dan Buescher. He is the attorney for the Labadie Sewer District. He explained that sewer district permit holders that discharge into the Labadie Creek Watershed must meet the new ammonia regulations.
The new rules will take effect Feb. 28 of next year but compliance time lines will vary based on factors such as expiration dates of current permits.
Without consolidating the districts, the impact on the customers could become unbearable, Buescher said. It has been estimated that the improvements could cost $2 million. Under a worst-case scenario previously reported customers’ bills could be $50 a month after a rate hike.
The Labadie treatment plant would be upgraded to serve the consolidated district since it is the farthest downstream, Buescher said.
He said he feels bad for those sewer discharge permit holders who may not be able to team up with others to lessen the blow of the costly upgrades.
Based on the cost of making upgrades and the time required to do so, there could be extensions granted to allow entities time to come into compliance, Buescher said.
It is unclear how many wastewater treatment plants in Franklin County will have to make system upgrades to comply with the new guidelines. The Missourian sought this information from the Missouri DNR but did not get the information by press time.
Buescher noted that Labadie Creek ultimately flows into the Missouri River, and the object of the new rules is to clean up as many of the discharges as possible.
The EPA is trying to deal with “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico to restore fishing and natural growth of flora, he added. That can’t be done if there are high levels of pesticides and nutrients, he said.
The consolidation of the sewer districts would have to be approved by the county commission. Currently, officials are trying to get sewer district customers to sign a petition in favor of the consolidation even though this is not required. Buescher said this will just show that people are in favor of consolidation.
He hopes consolidation can be completed in the first quarter of next year but said it could take twice that long.
Financing improvements may be done through bonds, grants or loans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Clean Water Commission are possible funding sources, he said.