Joseph is facing up to $4.2 million in improvements to its wastewater facilities. That’s the bad news in the long-awaited updated Department of Environmental Quality permit process.
Joseph has been living on borrowed time for nearly 10 years since its old wastewater discharge permit expired in 2009. It has taken DEQ until now to come up with new requirements.
Many of those come as a result of Joseph’s discharge of treated water into Prairie Creek. That discharge is going to continue to be problematic, according to City Engineer Brad Baird of Anderson Perry and Associates Inc.
“(DEQ requirements) are going to do nothing but get worse in the future,” Baird said. “As long as you discharge into a body of water, you’re susceptible to future regulations.”
Just a few of the new requirements included lower limits for chlorine; new ammonia limits that mean the city would have to add an additional treatment step; and a new step of monitoring dissolved oxygen in the creek.
The city must also meet multiple deadlines for various plans, compliance tests and reports over the next few years — the first due March 31, 2019.
The issue has been on the city’s radar for some time. One option: Building a lagoon large enough to store all the treated wastewater in fall, winter and spring and irrigate in summer — eliminating discharge into Prairie Creek.
Discharged water is already used as irrigation water in the summer, a practice that suits both agriculture and the city and will most likely continue and be expanded.
Most of the new DEQ requirements would be built into the new lagoon system.
The lagoon conversion project is estimated to cost $3.8 to $4.2 million. It has another benefit. Oversight by the city will require a Level 1 operator, rather than a Level 2 operator.
Level 2 operators are in short supply and difficult to recruit.
Bottom line: Sewer rates will have to be raised. Current sewer rates are $27.60 with a $5 monthly surcharge, making it $32.60 per month. To qualify for loans or grants the city would have to raise their rates to show they could meet debt service for loans.
The city has avoided raising rates significantly because of strong resident protest. It has managed to keep sewer costs fairly flat, said Baird.
Now they are faced with bumping the rates by $10 or more. Exact amounts are unknown and will depend on the loan and grant packages available to the city.
“Keep in mind ... you haven’t really done a wastewater project in 22 years,” Baird told the city council. “It’s typical for communities that haven’t done anything to be faced with these new requirements. You’ll take a one-time hit and then, hopefully, problem solved for 20 to 30 years.”
Baird said if the city chose to repair the existing system — given the age of the system — it’s likely the equipment would need repair again.
“I don’t think throwing good money after bad is a good choice,” said councilor member Teresa Sajonia. “It’s not going to be fun raising the rates, but there’s no choice.”
Councilors authorized Baird to finish the wastewater report now that he has the final specs from DEQ and will proceed to apply for a funding package when that is done.