Advisor says Colfax cannot afford $50,000 a year for pollutant trading

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — The village’s financial advisor, Brian Reilly of Ehlers and Associates, says the Colfax sewer utility could not afford to pay $50,000 a year for pollutant trading to mitigate phosphorus discharge levels.

Reilly appeared before the Colfax Village Board at the October 22 meeting to talk about refinancing the village’s existing debt and adding new loans to the debt.

Colfax will be required by the state Department of Natural Resources’ Total Maximum Daily Load plan (TMDL) to reduce the phosphorus discharged into the Red Cedar River by December 31, 2013.

One way the village could do that is through pollutant trading with farmers upstream who would reduce the amount of phosphorus runoff from their farm fields in the amount that the village is required to reduce phosphorus.

Colfax would pay the farmers for their efforts, and the cost is expected to be $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

The sewer utility, based on the current revenue, could absorb a payment of between $20,000 and $30,000 annually, Reilly said.

If the village were to take on debt for an improvement that would reduce the phosphorus level, the debt could be spread out over time and paid off gradually, he said.

If the village pays $50,000 a year for five years for pollutant trading, “what will we have to show for it?” wondered Gary Stene, village president.

Beverly Schauer, village trustee and chair of the public works committee, agreed.

“Fifty thousand would be thrown down the drain every year,” she said.

The village would be better off borrowing the $250,000 for a permanent solution that actually reduces the phosphorus discharge from the village, Schauer said.

Reilly agreed. If the village is going to spend the money, “why not make it a permanent solution?” he said.

Phosphorus meeting

Stene reported that representatives from the Dunn County land conservation office and the Planning, Resources and Development Committee would be willing to meet with representatives from Colfax in November to talk about a pollutant-trading program.

Stene said he thought it would be a good idea for former village employee Mike Boyd to attend the meeting and that the village should pay him for his time.

Boyd, who retired last December, operated the village’s water and sewer utility for many years.

Rand Bates, director of public works, said he had asked Boyd if he would be willing to attend, and Boyd said that he would, if he was “not up north.”

The Colfax Village Board unanimously approved a motion to have Boyd attend the meeting about phosphorus and to pay him for his time.

Irrigation

At a previous meeting with the village’s wastewater engineer, Jeremiah Wendt of Short, Elliott, Hendrickson, Bates talked about the possibility of using an irrigation system to eliminate the village’s phosphorus discharge all together.

Instead of discharging water from the wastewater treatment lagoons into the Red Cedar River, the water would be used to irrigate a crop, such as trees.

Irrigation systems that use municipal wastewater are currently in use in several areas around the state, including Hayward and Fall Creek.

If the village has to pay more up front but creates a long-term solution to the phosphorus problem, “that would be a better solution,” Stene said.

“We should look into everything we can,” he said.

Bates agreed but noted that much would depend on whether the village has the right soil type for irrigation and whether the irrigation system might be too close to the river,.

Colfax Village Board members agreed that Bates should find out more information about an irrigation system for the village that would use wastewater from the lagoons.