Sheldon gets reprieve

Wednesday, June 27, 2018
FILE PHOTO: An aerator pump from the city of Sheldon’s waste water lagoon sits behind city hall awaiting repair in August of 2016.
Gabe Franklin

By Gabe Franklin

The city of Sheldon has received a reprieve from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in the form of a two-year postponement of tighter limits on allowable pollutants released from the city’s wastewater treatment lagoon.

“It’s something that’s been talked about and punted down the road for years,” Mayor Rob Sewell said, explaining he wants to see progress made in repairing the wastewater lagoon.

According to the waste water treatment facility permit under which the city is currently operating, on July 1, 2019, the city would have had to limit ammonia being released from the wastewater lagoon to 3.9 mg/L on a daily basis with a monthly average not greater than 1.4 mg/L from April 1-Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 – March 11, permissible release levels would be 9.6 mg/L daily with a monthly average no higher than 2.8 mg/L. Failure to do so would result in significant fines being levied against the city.

This permit expired on June 30, 2017.

The city recently received a draft of their new operating permit for the lagoon which delays implementation of even tighter permissible ammonia release limits until July 1, 2021.

Under the final limits of the city’s new permit, ammonia discharge is limited to 3.5 mg/L on a daily basis with a monthly average not greater than 1.4 mg/L from April 1-Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 – March 11, permissible release levels would be 8.8 mg/L daily with a monthly average no higher than 2.8 mg/L.

The city’s new permit also requires adherence to permissible E.coli restrictions not included on the current permit.

City clerk Becky Morgan said Tuesday morning that the city has not received the final draft of their new wastewater facility operating permit but that the numbers are unlikely to change.

How did we get here?

In June, 2016, Sheldon’s mayor pro tem Robert Moran, maintenance supervisor Joe Bzruchowski, and former council member Gary Charniga met with E.C. West, a water specialist from Missouri Department of Natural Resources, to discuss options for achieving ammonia release compliance by July 1, 2019, as required by Sheldon’s permit for the water treatment lagoon.

Built in 1971, West explained that Sheldon’s wastewater lagoons were designed to meet requirements for biochemical oxygen demand and total suspended solids, not for ammonia.

Over the years, sludge build-up, settling of the lagoons south berm, erosion and aging aerators — only one of four was operational — have reduced the lagoons effectiveness in the face of rising regulatory compliance costs.

West recommended the lagoon be dredge to remove the built-up sludge, rock added to the shore to reduce erosion, the aerators be repaired and plant infiltration into the sewer pipes to be minimized.

During a July 14, 2016, board of alderman meeting, mayor pro tem Robert Moran said, “This is a real emergency,” during discussion of the wastewater lagoon and ways to fund repairs.

At the time, the city believed that had until 2019 to be compliant with lower ammonia release levels for the wastewater lagoon.

In July 2016, the city board of alderman discussed raising water rates to account for increased system maintenance costs and were met with stout opposition from some of Sheldon’s residents. Despite the delay, Sheldon’s water rate increase — which will fund system repairs and replacement — went in to effect early in early 2017.

No such rate increase has been considered yet for the wastewater system.

In August 2016, maintenance supervisor Joe Bzruchowski and area contractor Cole Reed completed an assessment of the sludge build up in the wastewater lagoon and found significant built up of sludge around the intake pipe on the west end of the primary cell. The build-up is so great that at low water levels, an island forms in the west end of the lagoon.

Later in August 2016, the board of alderman received a visit from Gwenda J. Bassett, Community Services Coordinator from Missouri Department of Natural Resources

“Upgrades or operational changes to the city’s current treatment system may be required to continue meeting the Missouri Clean Water Law requirements,” Bassett said. “A Small Community Engineering Assistance Program grant should be considered to pursue funding for a facility plan to evaluate the facility and the ability to meet future requirements. The city would also benefit from obtaining assistance with, and implementing, improved asset management practices. This will help the city to plan for future maintenance and upgrade costs, be aware of the life-expectancy of assets, and also benefit the city is planning to apply for future loans or grants for wastewater upgrades. Reviewing sewer rates more frequently and preparing capital improvement plans will help prevent shortages in expense accounts. The city should consider developing a Capacity, Management, Operation, and Maintenance plan which can help the city address other tracking, document, and maintenance recommendations; for example, an operation and maintenance plan and a routine inspection and maintenance program. Which is one of the things in there. Utilizing a CMOM plan will also help the city to plan for unexpected staff changes. The Wastewater section of this report has more information on these recommendations and resources to help.”

She further explained that current revenue from the wastewater treatment system is not sufficient to maintain, repair, or replace the system stating usage rates needed to be evaluated every 2-5 years.

Sheldon’s wastewater rates were last reviewed in 2001 when the second holding cell was added to the lagoon — a doubling of the rates helped repay the construction loan which was paid off in April 2016.

A complete overhaul would remove solid sludge from the bottom of the lagoon, raise and repair the lagoons berms, install new aerators to oxygenate the water, and place large rocks called rip rap around the shore of the lagoon to prevent erosion and in 2016, was estimated at approximately $276,000.

In November 2016, Brzuchowski said he has completed mapping the sludge in the wastewater treatment lagoon and has installed a new motor in one of the aerators but has yet to complete the wiring.

In December, the city approved purchasing 1,500 pounds of bentonite clay to repair a leak on the south berm of the primary cell and replacement of 100 feet of sewer line near the school. Unseasonably warm weather delayed the lagoon’s repair until the following year.

In April 2017, Mayor Pro Tem Robert Moran was replaced by Joshua Bean and Robert Sewell was elected to the open mayor’s seat.

In May 2017, Brzuchowski said the leak in the berm was deeper than he expected and repairs had not been completed yet.

“I think we have a little more of a problem,” Brzuchowski said. “I think it is seeping from the very bottom of the lagoon and going under the keyway. When they build a lagoon before they even start building it, they cut so wide and so deep of a key way all the way around it and they will mix bentonite and clay and put that in there and call that a key way. Then they will start building the [berm].”

Brzuchowski said this was to create a seal around the bottom of the lagoon so it does not leak.

“I think it’s found a way to travel down and up under the keyway,” Brzuchowski said.

“So we could still have a major problem here?” Leininger asked.

“We need to discuss that,” Sewell said, before moving on to other business.

By July 2017, an additional two motors had been ordered for the pumps at the lagoon. A third has been installed on the pump but the wiring had not yet been completed.

As of August 2017, the origin of the leak in the south berm had not been found.

Brzuchowski said that he and others had been under the impression that in 2019, the city’s wastewater permit would feature a decrease in the allowable ammonia level in the water discharged from the lagoon.

“That’s wrong,” Brzuchowski said.

Brzuchowski explained that the city’s permit expired June 30, 2017, and while city clerk Becky Morgan submitted the application for renewal in December 2016, the city has yet to hear from DNR.

The new permit was supposed to go into effect on July 1.

“Our ammonia level will start with this permit,” Brzuchowski said. “What it is going to be, I don’t have the slightest idea. EPA does all that.”

On Friday, Morgan said Brzuchowski had spoken with E.C. West, a wastewater specialist with DNR who had informed him of the imminent implementation of ammonia release limits.

Brzuchowski explained the city has exceeded the allowable limit numerous times over the past year.

He went on to list several steps needed to repair the lagoon in order to make it more efficient and lower the ammonia levels. Those projects include stopping the existing leak, repairing the berms and adding rock to the shores, repairing the aerators, and removing sludge from the bottom of the primary cell.

“Well, it sounds like we’re kinda getting to the point where even if we fix the leak we might not be to where we — we’re going to have to get it drained and cleaned out,” Mayor Robert Sewell said.

In Sept. 2017, Brzuchowski said the water level in the lagoon is not deep enough to install the two new aerators.

“Are we at a point where we need to be lining up bids for this job,” Leininger asked Brzuchowski.

Brzuchowski said there is nothing else he can do to repair the lagoon.

In November 2017, Brzuchowski said the city needs to have an engineer evaluate the wastewater lagoon and that two of the four aerators should be in service by the summer of 2018.

In April 2018, Brzuchowski reported erosion problems are worsening at the city’s wastewater lagoon. He explained the shore of both cells of the lagoon need to be rebuilt and lined with rock. Brzuchowski also expressed concern about the solid waste to water ratio in the lagoon.

“We’re at the same place we were a few years ago,” he said. “It’s just getting worse.”

The city planned to go forward with a test program using a chemical additive to reduce ammonia levels in the lagoon.

During the May 2017 meeting, alderman Gene Leininger said, “It’s gotta be at least two years we’ve been talking about getting those aerators going. Is there any way we can get one of those going, one a month from now until the middle of summer?”

Brzuchowski said he planned to complete wiring on one of the aerators the next week, then install the new motors on two others. There was only one aerator currently operating in the lagoon.

He also voiced concern over spending time working on the wastewater lagoon would detract from his ability to finish projects in town and also about working alone at the lagoon while out in a boat.

“I don’t want to wait four months but we’ll get it done,” Sewell said. “It needs to be done.”

According to Morgan on Friday following the May 10 meeting, the city had received a draft of their new wastewater lagoon permit. The previously expected reduction in permissible ammonia discharge was postponed from 2019 until 2021.

On June 14, 2018, the board of alderman was informed the second aerator was in place in the lagoon and working.

Morgan said that as of Tuesday, Brzuchowski has been unable to fix the leak on the south side of the primary berm.

Sewell said Tuesday that he doesn’t feel the problem is as significant as it has occasionally been portrayed. He said he has directed Brzuchowski to look into engineers to develop a plan for the wastewater lagoon and hopes to have plans completed by the end of the year.

To finance the project, he is hoping the city will be able to qualify for grant money though he said a wastewater rate increase would likely be needed. If the cost repairs climb into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said the city may have to look into a loan.

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