City Lights: City’s wastewater improvements churning ahead
by Matt Muckler, City Administrator · Op-Ed · November 02, 2012

The City Council has recently approved several items related to the city’s wastewater system.

At their Oct. 9 annual goal setting session, the Council adopted the following as their top three priorities for the coming year: 1) Make repairs to wastewater infrastructure identified in the I & I Study, 2) Continue I & I work (including additional phases of our I & I study), and 3) Construct a new lift station.

Lift station

Resolutions 1036 (Oct. 1st) and 1039 (Oct. 15th) approved easement agreements with two land owners for construction of the new lift station and forced main project on their properties. The project will construct a new well structure adjacent to our existing lift station (just east of Beranek Park) with pumps capable of transporting our wastewater (even during heavy rain events) to our wastewater lagoon system, located south of the interstate, through a new forced main. The project includes a new control building and a generator to ensure our wastewater system continues to function in cases of power outages.

This project provides both public health and environmental benefits. In recent years, raw sewage has backed up into basements in West Branch. In an attempt to avoid sewer back-ups during heavy rain events, city staff has bypassed raw sewage out of our existing lift station and various sewer manholes onto the ground in these locations. With the addition of the generator, larger pumps and redundant pumps, the project will eliminate sewer back-ups and bypassing, therefore bringing our system more into compliance with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

On Sept. 17, the Council approved Resolution 1034, an engineering services agreement with Terracon to provide soil borings for the project. The soil borings and the last portion of design work are currently being completed. This project, estimated at $750,000, will be put out to bid before the end of this year and is expected to be completed by this time next year. The project is expected to be paid for with a general obligation bond which will be paid back with sewer revenue. The Council will consider bonding options in the coming months.

I & I

In July of last year, the Council approved the first phase of our I & I study to identify manholes and sections of wastewater mains that need to be repaired or replaced. Over $500,000 in needed repairs were identified in this first phase of the study. Initial repairs have been completed (for example, the project at the intersection of Fifth and Main). More point repairs, as well as grouting and lining wastewater mains are needed and will be addressed with sewer funds. The Council will consider funding additional I & I work as a part of the upcoming bond issue.

Reducing I & I (that is, stormwater entering our wastewater system) saves sewer rate payers in two ways: 1) energy costs — when we reduce the amount of stormwater that enters the wastewater system, we reduce the need to pump it from our lift station to the lagoons, and 2) when we can document (to the DNR) reduced wastewater flows, we can design future treatment solutions with lower capacities, thereby saving future design, construction and maintenance costs.


The City Council is also planning ahead for our future treatment needs. More stringent contaminant limitations are expected to be required in the future, especially for ammonia. On February 6th of this year, the Council held a work session to learn more about the Submerged Attached Growth Reactor (SAGR) process. A trip was made to Walker, IA earlier this month to visit their SAGR system. The SAGR system has already been approved by the DNR for use in Iowa to reduce ammonia levels.

The Council also adopted Resolution 1032 on Sept. 17, 2012, approving the Bio-Dome wastewater treatment pilot study. The Bio-Dome process is currently seeking DNR approval. With these two emerging technologies, we are hopeful to avoid a mechanical wastewater treatment plant in the future. Both the SAGR and Bio-Dome systems are less expensive to construct and would cost sewer customers much less to operate and maintain than a mechanical plant.

Wastewater may not be an exciting policy topic, but it is one that is critical to our everyday lives. The investments we make in our wastewater infrastructure now will ensure that we provide for the public health, meet our commitment to the environment, save money for future ratepayers and allow us to grow as a community. These investments will be financed by our monthly sewer bills, not property taxes. Please feel free to stop by the City Office or call me at (319) 643-5888 for more information on these projects.

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