DNR says pollutant trading no longer an option for Colfax; finding an alternative could cost up to $17,200

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  So now what?

Although the Colfax Village Board was all set to move forward with pollutant trading for phosphorus, representatives for the state Department of Natural Resources now say pollutant trading is not an option for Colfax.

Jeremiah Wendt, a project manager with the engineering and consulting firm of Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., reported on the changed pollutant trading circumstances at the Colfax Village Board’s February 25 meeting.

The Colfax Village Board ultimately approved a contract with SEH in an amount not to exceed $17,200 for Wendt’s services to explore other options for phosphorus removal.

At issue is the amount of phosphorus discharged from the village’s lagoon system into the Red Cedar River.

Pea soup

Phosphorus is the nutrient implicated in the toxic blue-green algae blooms every summer in Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin that turn the lakes into the color of pea soup or green paint.

Although Colfax discharges nearly ten times the legal limit of phosphorus each year, the total amount — about a thousand pounds — is a fraction of the amount coming from the 1,900 square-mile Red Cedar Watershed.

“Pollutant trading” would have involved Colfax paying at a rate of two-to-one to remove phosphorus from farm field runoff upstream  — two pounds from the fields for every one pound from Colfax.

The process of pollutant trading was determined to be the most cost-effective for the village because other options were estimated to cost anywhere from several hundred thousand dollars to $4 or $5 million for a mechanical wastewater treatment plant.

A new pollutant-trading framework for the state had been based on several pilot programs, Wendt told the village board at the February 25 meeting.

But now, the pollutant-trading program has been thrown out and is “no longer in existence,” he said.

Next?

Wendt, and Jackie Ponto, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, recently met with Tom Ponty and Paul LaLiberte of the WDNR.

DNR now wants Colfax to optimize phosphorus removal from the existing lagoon system, Wendt said.

WDNR has been put on notice by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to reduce phosphorus in the state’s watersheds.

The village’s current wastewater treatment permit expires on December 31, and the new permit will go into effect January 1, 2014.

For the rest of 2013, DNR officials are suggesting that the village do pilot testing and experiment with optimizing phosphorus removal from the lagoon system, Wendt said.

Colfax currently is discharging phosphorus at eight or nine milligrams per liter.

The existing permit limit is one milligram of phosphorus per liter.

Colfax could possibly reduce the phosphorus discharge to 2 or 2.5 milligrams, Wendt said.

Pollutant trading could be a possibility for the last 1 or 1.5 milligrams per liter, he said.

On a brighter note, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study for the Red Cedar Watershed was published recently establishing a limit of one milligram of phosphorus per liter for Colfax, Wendt said.

With the TMDL in place, Colfax will never have to get lower than one milligram per liter; other communities are in the position of having to get down to a fraction of one milligram, he said.

All alone

Mark Halpin, village trustee, wondered if Colfax was alone in the phosphorus dilemma or if there were other communities facing the same problem.

Colfax is in a “unique situation,” Wendt said.

Legislation was passed in 1992 — more than 20 years ago — establishing the one milligram per liter limit, he said.

“Colfax is one of the last communities that is still working toward the one milligram limit,” Wendt said.

The DNR wants to find out what Colfax can achieve at the lagoons, he said.

Chemicals

One of the options for Colfax is to add chemicals to the wastewater treatment lagoons to help the phosphorus settle out, specifically aluminum sulfate (alum) or ferric chloride.

According to Wendt’s report, Ponto asked the DNR representatives about the long-term effects on the environment and was told that adverse effects have not been noted at any of the facilities using the chemicals.

Another option would be to batch treat the lagoons prior to discharge two or three times a year.

The Village of Granton has batch treated the last few years, and a visit to Granton to talk about their methods might be worthwhile, Wendt said.

Sludge

Sludge removal from the lagoons may also help the phosphorus discharge.

LaLiberte wondered if the sludge is releasing phosphorus into the lagoons so that the discharge of phosphorus is higher than the amount of phosphorus coming into the lagoons, Wendt said.

Other options could include the use of surface discharge (water from the lagoons is sprayed a short distance into the air so it evaporates) or to use the lagoon water for crop irrigation.

The DNR is “willing to work with Colfax to experiment … to find out what will work for Colfax,” Ponto said.

Ponto also said she had met with Sundstrom’s Pit Pumping for some suggestions.

“We need to at least try,” she said.

Timeframe

Wendt said he could start on the project immediately and that pilot testing would occur during the late spring and summer.

A report would be submitted to the DNR by the end of October, giving the DNR several months to work on writing the new wastewater permit for Colfax, he said.

The cost for Wendt’s service would be up to $17,200.

Members of the Colfax Village Board were not especially happy about spending $17,000 for engineering services for “experiments” when there was no guarantee that the DNR would accept any of the solutions or the outcomes.

The cost of chemical treatment, irrigation, sludge removal — or any other methods that end up being tried — would be in addition to the engineering costs.

“Jeremiah is getting the short end … we have to do something,” said Rand Bates, public works director.

At past meetings, members of the Colfax Village Board also have expressed displeasure at the prospect of village residents paying farmers to implement conservation practices.

The Colfax Village Board approved the contract for up to $17,200 on a vote of six to one.

Gary Stene, village president, and village trustees Halpin, Richard Johnson, Beverly Schauer, Susan Olson and Chris Olson voted in favor of the motion.

Village Trustee Scott Gunnufson voted against the motion.

“The contract is for up to $17,000. He’s not asking for all of it now,” Johnson noted.