By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The deadline for Colfax to reduce phosphorus discharge into the Red Cedar River is coming closer.
As of December 31, 2013, the village must reduce its phosphorus discharge to one milligram per liter from the current discharge limit of 9.9 milligrams per liter.
The Colfax Village Board’s public works committee met with Jeremiah Wendt, an engineer with Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH), September 20 to review the village’s options for dealing with phosphorus.
According to Wendt’s phosphorus removal report completed in 2010, the most cost-effective way to handle phosphorus is through a pollutant-trading program where one municipality that is unable to bring the phosphorus level down any farther “trades” the required reduced pounds of phosphorus with another municipality that is able to reduce the phosphorus.
In this case, Colfax would trade pounds of phosphorus through a program set up in either Barron County or Dunn County in which farmers reduce the phosphorus run-off from their fields to compensate for the phosphorus Colfax puts into the Red Cedar River.
In the past, establishing reliable methods for measuring the reduction in phosphorus run-off from farm fields has been difficult.
Phosphorus is the nutrient implicated in the algae blooms in Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin that turn the water into the color of pea soup every summer.
Blue-green algae is toxic and causes skin rashes and other health problems.
Although the initial estimate was $15,000 a year for pollutant trading, the cost per pound of phosphorus has increased, so that the total annual cost for Colfax through Barron County would probably be closer to $30,000, Wendt told the committee.
The new phosphorus limits are based on a water-based effluent limit, he noted.
The state Department of Natural Resources has been working on a Total Maximum Daily Load plan (TMDL) for the Red Cedar Watershed, and the TMDL is now approved, Wendt said.
The Red Cedar Watershed covers 1,700 square miles.
The TMDL establishes a limit of 320 pounds of phosphorus a year from Colfax. The village currently discharges between 1,100 and 1,200 pounds of phosphorus annually.
Because phosphorus is a commonly-occurring soil nutrient in this area and throughout the watershed, millions of pounds of phosphorus are discharged into the watershed each year.
Water coming out of the tap in Colfax is at the legal limit for phosphorus.
Mike Boyd, who retired last December as the village employee responsible for running the sewer and water utility, attended the September 21 meeting.
Compared to the millions of pounds of phosphorus from the watershed, the thousand or so pounds from the Village of Colfax is miniscule, Boyd said.
Even if the Village of Colfax stopped discharging any phosphorus into the Red Cedar River, area residents would see no impact on the algae blooms in Tainter Lake, he said.
“You will never see a change in Tainter Lake just from Colfax,” Boyd said.
Gary Stene, village president, agreed with Boyd’s objections.
“I’m not interested in solving a problem we can’t solve,” he said, noting that he would like to enlist the help of state Representative Tom Larson and state Senator Terry Moulton to get Colfax excused from the requirement to reduce the phosphorus discharge.
The TMDL was developed pursuant to the Federal Clean Water Act and the determination that Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin are impaired waters.
The Environmental Protection Agency is requiring all states to set phosphorus standards to meet the requirements of the Federal Clean Water Act.
Instead of pollutant trading, Colfax could use chemicals to take phosphorus out of the discharge.
Setting up a chemical treatment system would cost around $500,000, Wendt said.
Alum would be used to bind with the phosphorus to cause it to settle out of the effluent.
Using chemical treatment would cause sludge to build up more quickly in the village’s lagoon, Wendt said.
Rand Bates, public works director, said he had been to a wastewater treatment seminar recently and that one of the ideas he came away with was using effluent to irrigate a crop, such as corn or trees.
Using the effluent as irrigation would eliminate all of the phosphorus discharge to the Red Cedar River, Bates said.
A system is set up in Hayward that uses the effluent in an irrigation system, he said.
Richard Johnson, village trustee, and Chris Olson, village trustee and a member of the public works committee, both noted that a similar system is set up in Fall Creek for irrigating farm fields.
“It has to be a production crop, and forest is a crop,” Bates said.
“We have to do something, and it’s going to cost something. Our best bet is to quit discharging in the river,” he said.
Wendt said he did not think the soil in the area was suitable for land discharge but that he would do some more investigation.
An irrigation system also would cost about $500,000, he said, because it would require installing a lift station at the lagoons, along with pipeline and the irrigation system.
Colfax is the last community in the watershed that is not down to one milligram per liter, Wendt said.
Raising the sewer rates to cover the cost of removing more phosphorus would cause an economic hardship for village residents, Stene said.
Colfax is not at the top of the list for sewer rates, Wendt said.
A variance would be considered when the sewer rates are more than 2 percent of the median household income, he said.
Jackie Ponto, administrator clerk-treasurer, conducted a search for median income in Colfax and came up with an annual median income of $38,000 per household.
Stene said he thought that number seemed high for the village.
Two percent of $38,000 would be a sewer rate of $760 per year or about $63 per month.
No information was provided at the meeting on the current average sewer rate for a household in Colfax.
Wastewater permits for Colfax are issued for five years.
Stene suggested setting up a pollutant trading program for the next five years to give the village time to explore other options, such as an irrigation system or a chemical system to eliminate phosphorus.
The public works committee directed Bates to contact Dunn County and Barron County to get more information on pollutant trading and to bring the information to the village board’s September 24 meeting.
Barron County has experience in pollutant trading with the Village of Cumberland.
Dunn County is currently working on a phosphorus reduction program in the Town of Grant.