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Wheeler sets schedule for phosphorus pilot study

By LeAnn R. Ralph

WHEELER — The Wheeler Village Board has approved chemical feed pilot testing to reduce phosphorus at the wastewater treatment facility during the summers of 2016 and 2017.

The village board approved the schedule at the November 9 meeting.

According to the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plan for the Red Cedar River Watershed, the Village of Wheeler must cut the phosphorus discharge from the wastewater treatment lagoons in half.

The Wheeler Village Board held a special meeting October 16 to discuss the village’s phosphorus discharge with Paul Gont, the village’s wastewater engineer with Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH); Mike Vollrath, a wastewater supervisor with the state Department of Natural Resources out of the Eau Claire office; and Lori Fassbender, a wastewater engineer in the DNR’s west central region.

Phosphorus is the nutrient that fuels toxic algae blooms on Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin.

The Red Cedar River Watershed covers 1,900 square miles.

Wheeler has missed several deadlines for the implementation plan, including submitting an operational evaluation report by June 30, 2014; submitting a facility plan by March 31, 2015; and construction plans and specifications by September 30, 2015.

The recommendation to conduct the chemical feed pilot testing during the summers of 2016 and 2017 was included in a letter Gont sent to the village.

The pilot study will determine the best chemical to use and the rate at which to use it to reduce phosphorus discharge.

The Village of Wheeler’s current wastewater treatment permit expires in 2018.

When the current permit expires, Wheeler could then apply for an economic variance for compliance with the phosphorus standard based on information and costs gathered during the pilot study, according to the letter from Gont.

The letter outlines ten items that were discussed with the DNR in October.

The interim limit for phosphorus discharge from the Wheeler wastewater facility is 350 pounds per year. The final limit will be 152 pounds per year.

According to documents provided to the village board at the October special meeting, in 2009, Wheeler discharged 248 pounds of phosphorus. In 2010, the village discharged 373 pounds of phosphorus. In 2011, the village discharged 310 pounds. And in 2012, the village discharged 321 pounds.

Overall, the village is under the interim limit for phosphorus but will have to reduce the phosphorus discharge by half to meet the final limit.

Given the median household income in Wheeler and the percentage of the household income going to pay sewer bills, it is possible Wheeler would qualify for an economic variance.

The median household income in Wheeler is $30,313 per year. Wheeler has 114 residential customers, and the average residential sewer charge is $495 per year, which is 1.63 percent of the median household income.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency considers between 1 percent and 2 percent a moderate impact.

Other factors can also contribute to economic stress for a community, such as unemployment, the number of jobs available, the municipality’s amount of debt, property tax revenue and the property tax collection rate.

The EPA considers a percentage of median household income over 2 percent to be a high impact.