The metal roof of this digester at the Wellington Wastewater Treatment plant is so corroded workers cannot walk on it for repairs.
Mother Nature delivers the rain and snow for free. From then on it is up to the Price River Water Improvement District to purify the water, deliver it across the county, and purify it again when people have flushed it away.
That is not free.
In fact, the latest round of improvements planned by the district will carry a price tag of about $7 million. That figure includes $5 million for the water plant at Castle Gate and $2 million for the sewage plant at Wellington. Pipe extensions and improvements for water and sewer systems are included in the tab.
On Tuesday, the PRWID board gave the go-ahead for staff to prepare two applications for funding from the state's Permanent Community Impact Board. General Manager Jeff Richens said during a public hearing that the plan is to ask for separate allocations for the water system and the sewer system. The district will ask for half of the money in grants and the other half in long-term loans.
For its share, PRWID will put up $100,000 for the water proposal and $50,000 for waste water treatment.
It also means probable rate increases for PRWID's water and sewer customers, mainly because, as chairman Richard Tatton said, the CIB can be tightfisted in allocating money unless it sees local governments and agencies carrying their share of the financial load. Richens said that the increases are difficult to calculate exactly at this stage because interest rates and construction costs are not yet locked in. It could be an extra $1 to $1.50 per month on water and a bit less on sewer for residential customers, but there is not any certainty to the penny how much it will be.
During a technical briefing during the hearing, Cory Christiansen of Waterworks Engineers, a consultant for the district, explained that the big-ticket items at the sewer treatment plant are mainly replacements of equipment and structures that are showing signs of advanced old age. As an example, for the past 20 years, the metal domes covering the digesters have been constantly exposed to clouds of methane and sulfur dioxide. (Think of the bacteria that work there as being on a bean diet.)
Pipes that carry the fumes out to be burned away are clogged, which means that the gases are being vented to the atmosphere. This is not good. There's the risk that too much pressure could pop the tops off the corroded structures, Christiansen said.
At the high end of the PRWID system, the water treatment plant, environmental requirements make up the most expensive single investment. PRWID has to inject a lot of chlorine into the water leaving the plant so that there will be some chlorine remaining in the pipes at the far end of the system. While chlorine kills bacteria, it also combines with the organic material left over to form undesirable byproducts.
Without getting too technical, all the options for fixing this run in the $2.5 million range, whether it be a system for removing the organics at the plant or using ozone to reduce the chlorine needed.
The water plant also needs various upgrades to bring it up to its intended capacity of 6 million gallons a day. It now runs at 4 million because there wasn't enough money 30 years ago to put in all that was necessary, Richens explained. While the flow is adequate most of the time, there is no extra capacity to keep the water flowing out if there are problems such as turbidity during runoff or heavy rains.