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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — This could be the end of the line for the Colfax wastewater treatment lagoon’s GridBee.
“The GridBee quit again,” announced Rand Bates, director of public works, at the Colfax Village Board’s September 12 meeting.
The GridBee is a floating device that keeps water — and alum — circulating in the wastewater treatment lagoon.
A few years back, the state Department of Natural Resources decreased the limit on phosphorus that was allowed to be discharged from the village’s wastewater treatment lagoons into the Red Cedar River.
Alum was added to Pond No. 3 as way to make the phosphorus settle to the bottom, thereby removing it from the water discharged into the river.
At the time, Colfax used solar-powered SolarBees to circulate the water and mix in the alum.
The problem with the SolarBees is that there was no mixing overnight, so the alum was only mixed in half the time, and the phosphorus level remained above the limit set by the DNR, Bates said.
Phosphorus is the nutrient that is implicated in the toxic blue-green algae blooms on Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin.
The Village of Colfax installed power out at the wastewater treatment lagoons in 2015 and then began using a GridBee, powered by electricity, to circulate the water in the lagoon.
“It made a big difference (in the phosphorus level) with 24 hour mixing,” Bates said.
The problem is, the GridBee is not very reliable, he said.
The first year of operation, the GridBee quit. The machines have a 10-year warranty on the motor, and so far, the GridBee has had four new motors, Bates said.
In addition, Bates has replaced the cord going to the GridBee at least 14 or 15 times, and two control boxes have been replaced.
And yet, the GridBee still keeps quitting.
Two motor controllers were sent back to the company and were serviced. The motor controller tested fine and the motor tested fine, Bates said.
The company said it was not a problem with their machine, but rather, that it was a problem with the power going out to the lagoon. Dunn Energy checked the power, and while the wastewater treatment lagoons were “at the end of the line” then, a neighbor has been added on since, and the lagoons are no longer the end of the line, he said.
GridBee technicians work all over the United States, and it is difficult to schedule a technician to come to Colfax. Getting on the schedule might mean waiting for at least a month for a technician, Bates said.
At one point, a company technician happened to be coming back through this area and stopped in.
Bates said he had told the technician he could not believe Colfax would be the only municipality having these kinds of problems with GridBees, but the technician assured him that everyone else’s GridBees were working just fine.
Air compressor powered
Bates told the village board he had found a different kind of machine for circulating the lagoon water, a machine run by an air compressor that sits on shore and operates at five pounds per square inch.
The air compressor must be rebuilt every three to five years, but the cost to rebuild is $50, he said.
The price for the air-compressor-powered mixer is less than $10,000, Bates said, noting that he is currently waiting on a firm price for the air-compressor mixer.
When the mixer is working at night, what kind of impact does that have on the phosphorus level? asked Gary Stene, village trustee.
Mixing at night has “a lot of impact,” Bates said.
When the mixer worked at night, the phosphorus level was “taken right down,” and there was “no problem with phosphorus with 24-hour mixing,” he said.
If it is a choice between a machine that keeps quitting and requires constant maintenance or a SolarBee that only works during the day, “I would rather have the SolarBee that works in the morning,” Bates said.
When there are no technicians available for a month and the GridBee is not working and is not mixing, then the village has compliance problems with the DNR for phosphorus, he said.
The Colfax Village Board approved authorizing Bates and Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, to gather information and obtain a price for the air-compressor powered mixer so that it could be put into the budget for 2023.
In other business at the September 12 meeting, the Colfax Village Board approved increasing the sewer rates by 1 percent.
Every two years, the Colfax Village Board reviews the sewer and water rates, Bates said.
Both the sewer and water utility are operating in the black, noted Anne Jenson, village trustee.
The village’s sewer utility is deregulated, so the village board does not have to go through the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to increase the sewer rates.
A 1 percent sewer rate increase will help the utility to keep up on expenses, said Jody Albricht, village president.
The new sewer rate would be $5.15 for 1,000 gallons, representing an increase of five cents, he said.
The Colfax Village Board approved following the recommendation of the public works committee to raise the sewer rate by 1 percent to $5.15 per 1,000 gallons.