By Melissa Conrad Rushville Republican
---- — An unfunded mandate by the Environmental Protection Agency continues to dictate Rushville’s need to prepare for major expenditures required at the city’s wastewater treatment facility.
Presently, during periods of heavy rains untreated wastewater overflows through a pipe directly into the Flatrock River from the Smiley Avenue treatment plant.
Communities across the country, like Rushville, have been mandated to develop and move forward on plans to separate storm water from waste water or increase storage so that overflow of waste into rivers and streams no longer happens.
Many communities are struggling with how to make dramatic improvements to their antiquated combined sewer overflow systems, as mandated by the EPA, and the rates those improvements impact.
Rushville has taken the first steps to eliminate this problem by refurbishing the Julian Street lift station with money available through depreciation in the wasterwater budget. That project was completed at the end of 2012. Those improvements help carry the wastewater from throughout the city to the treatment plant.
The city is still facing approximate $7.8 million dollar expenditure for upgrades to our current wastewater treatment facility that will fulfill the EPA mandate and also upgrade equipment that is more than 20 years past its usable life expectancy at the plant. The project estimates have run millions of dollars higher in the past until the current plan utilizing newer technology approved by the state was settled on.
The Rushville City Council voted on an increase to water and sewer rates at their recent meeting in order to meet the demands of the mandated improvements. The matter will go before the Council Sept. 3 for a public hearing prior to the third reading and final vote on the matter. Bond ordinances to fund the plan were also approved during the recent meeting.
City leaders, utility board members and volunteers through several administrations have worked to develop the most cost-effective strategies to fulfill the federal requirements. They agree that continuing to wait until the last days under the mandate would only compound the problem and increase the overall costs significantly.
Rushville’s residential 5.8” meter monthly billing for 5,000 gallons combined water, sewer and stormwater rates would go from $54.87 to $76.57. By comparison, Shelbyville’s current rate for the same combined is $76.57 with Batesville at $ 56.19. The full rate notices are published in the Rushville Republican as a public notice and will be voted on in third reading Sept. 3.
Les Day, facility manager for the city’s water and wastewater treatment plant, recently gave the Rushville Republican a tour of the facility and explained the processes the water and wastewater moves through at the plant at it passes through screening and clarifying equipment. At the end of the process, one is able to see the picturesque gentle curve in the Flatrock River where wastewater overflows currently in heavy rain events.
Rushville’s history in wastewater goes back to the 1894 when the first pipes were installed by the Rush County Courthouse to carry waste. Back in those early years, untreated waste went directly into Hodges Branch.
The original clarifiers and pumps at the wastewater treatment facility were built in 1948 and 1949. In 1975, the plant converted to primary clarifiers to improve in the removal of solids in the treatment process. An aeration system further removes suspended solids and ammonia from the wastewater.
Improvements to the blower system as part of the new plan will monitor the treatment to conserve energy and allow for more control in operation. Three secondary clarifiers already remove the remaining waste at the plant, two of which were added during the last improvements at the plant in 1995. A sludge storage tank captures the waste and it is contracted out to be used as fertilizer on area farms.
Sludge also goes through a digester system that heats it to reduce the pathogens, allowing it to be land applied as fertilizer in the spring and fall. New lids on the digester were installed during a 1975 upgrade at the plant.
Finally, water is chlorinated and then the chlorine is removed and oxygen is put back into the water by cascading it down a stair step path before it goes into the river after treatment.
Older equipment that is 20 years past life expectancy will also be replaced as part of the improvements to the treatment plant including replacing the blowers and replacing grit removal equipment and screens that capture and remove debris.
The final phase of the improvement project will create two large storage tanks with treatment and pump capabilities to hold the wastewater until it can be treated, stopping the overflow into the river during these heavy rain events. When treated normally at Rushville’s treatment plant, other than during overflow events in heavy rains, treated water that has gone through the plant is cleaner than water coming into the county to the north and flowing down the river.
“That’s what we’re trying to do is clean up our portion that’s being sent into the river,” Day said. “Our plant is actually designed for two million gallons per day with a peak of four million gallons. The peak is when we have a rain event. The peak will increase to 12 million once we have everything accomplished we want to accomplish during these phases.”
Once the rate increases pass the third reading the new rates could be in effect as early as Oct. 1, 2013. Bids would be solicited until Oct. 15 with construction expected to begin on improvements to older equipment in February, 2014. That phase should be completed in 2015.
Design work is done on the final phase, which includes the new holding tanks, with that final phase in construction planned for 2017 to fulfill the EPA mandate. This proposed rate structure now would accommodate the majority of the mandated projects with the potential for a storm water utility rate to help pay for the final storage tank capacity phase.
New water rates were approved on first and second reading in Ordinance 2013-10 on a motion from Council member Brad Berkemeier with a second by member Brian Sheehan.
Rate increases for wastewater passed first and second readings in Ordinance 2013-11 with a motion by Sheehan and seconded by Berkemeier. Council president Bob Bridges and members Brian Conner and Craig Smith also voted in favor of the rate increases that all agreed were essential for Rushville to move forward and meet the federal mandate.
The City Utilities is governed by a Utility Service Board, which is comprised of five members and the city attorney. Members include chair Brian Bess, secretary Greg Coffin, Tim Sheehan, Butch Singleton, Phil Starkey and attorney Geoff Wesling.
Members of the Utilities board supported the Council decision and said it was time for Rushville to move ahead and address the improvements needed to fulfill the mandate.
Beyond the EPA mandate that overflows end, talk continues locally in less formal settings of utilizing the Flatrock River for recreation, fishing and even boating with work beginning on a new boat ramp near the amphitheater area.
While the EPA mandate has been a daunting hurdle for Rushville and communities across the nation to address, having a plan that ends raw sewage overflow in the river during rain events is something that can only add to the possibility of the river increasing its place as a healthy and cleaner recreation destination in the future.