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Copper and phosphorus limits still not set for EM

By LeAnn R. Ralph

ELK MOUND — Although the Village of Elk Mound’s wastewater permit expires at the end of June, the village board still does not know the copper and phosphorus limits for the wastewater treatment plant.

Paul Gont, the village’s wastewater engineer with Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH), spoke at the Elk Mound Village Board’s June 5 meeting about the discharge of copper and phosphorus.

The village’s application for a new five-year wastewater permit was submitted on time last December, but the state Department of Natural Resources is still trying to determine what the appropriate limits would be for phosphorus and copper, Gont said.

Applications for new wastewater permits are due six months before the existing permit expires.

“The new (DNR) rules are the problem. The (wastewater treatment) plant is performing extremely well,” Gont said.

Elk Mound has received two variances on the last two permits for copper discharge, he said.

Copper has a detrimental effect on small organisms in the environment, and Elk Mound has problems with copper in the water that is discharged to a wetland by the wastewater treatment facility.

Sources of copper can include copper water pipes, food waste and algaecides put into boilers to keep algae from growing, Gont said.

Another source could be a village resident dumping root killer down the drain to kill roots in the sewer line, he noted.

The odd thing is that more copper is allowed in the drinking water than is allowed in the wastewater, Gont said.

Drinking water can contain 1,000 parts-per-billion of copper, but the wastewater can only have ten parts-per-billion, Gont said.

“It’s a huge difference,” he said.

As for phosphorus, new rules were developed in 2010.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency was named in a lawsuit because the Wisconsin DNR was not regulating phosphorus enough, Gont said.

Typical wastewater contains five to seven parts-per-million of phosphorus, but before phosphate soaps were eliminated, wastewater contained ten to 12 parts-per-million, he noted.

Wetlands have no phosphorus limits, but if the wetland drains to a stream, and the stream is impacted, then there is a limit set by the DNR, Gont said.

The wetland that receives Elk Mound’s discharge drains to Muddy Creek, he said.

Elk Mound’s new wastewater permit will include a compliance schedule for phosphorus and copper discharge of seven to nine years for the final compliance date, Gont said.

“You’re talking big dollars to add onto the (Elk Mound) treatment plant for bringing down phosphorus levels,” he said.

The DNR has adopted an “adaptive management” approach, Gont noted.

Adaptive management would include programs for pollutant trading, he said.

Municipalities can receive an economic variance if the water and sewer rates are 2 percent or more of the average household income, Gont said.

Gont said that he and village employees had recently met with the DNR about the copper and phosphorus limits.

“At the end of the meeting, DNR said they would send a letter giving limits to Elk Mound,” he said.

Elk Mound’s new permit will not be issued by June 30, but the village can operate under the existing permit until the new permit is ready, Gont said.

Elk Mound may want to consider getting an attorney if the village board should want a contested hearing on the copper and phosphorus limits set the by the DNR, he said.

Travis Wenzel, village trustee, wondered how much of a fine Elk Mound would pay if the village did nothing about getting more copper and phosphorus out of the wastewater discharge.

The fines are up to $10,000 per day, Gont said.