The Bloomington and Normal Water Reclamation District will have to spend $160 million-plus over the next couple decades. Businesses, homeowners and apartment owners in the Twin Cities will have to pay for it.
The change has been a long time coming, according to Randy Stein, director of the district (BNWRD).
The federal government has directed states in the Mississippi River watershed to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus. Point source discharges such as industrial plants and Publicly Owned Water Treatment Systems (POTWs) are bearing the brunt of phosphorus reduction. Farmers are bearing the brunt of nitrogen reduction, Stein said.
Currently Bloomington-Normal gets water into the treatment plant that has an average of 6 parts per million (ppm) of phosphorus. When it leaves the system, Stein said, the level is 3 ppm. The new standard will likely be 0.3 ppm, he said.
Stein said BNWRD is looking at 10 to 12 years of construction and decades to pay for new treatment adjustments in plants two and three and an entirely new process for plant one.
Stein said the state is helping treatment systems with its low interest revolving loan fund, which currently has an interest rate of about 2%.
Stein said property taxes will not go up to pay for the project. He said user fees will rise. Stein said current user fees range from $12-$15 per month and they would go up in a series of small increases over five or six years. Residents will know in the next six to 12 months how much they will have to pay when the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issues permit requirements to BNWRD, Stein said.
Stein said the deadline to have the reductions in place is 2035 and construction will likely begin in 2-3 years, so BNWRD will be accumulating debt for a number of years, Stein said.
Current loans on a plant built in 2005, Stein said, will be paid off in 2027 and retirement of that debt can be rolled over into new debt to avoid steeper user fee increases.
President Trump’s administration has moved to roll back several environmental regulations and even sought to take authority away from states like California on fuel emissions standards. But Stein said the federal government probably won’t backtrack on phosphorus and nitrogen emission standards.
“It’s very unlikely. The momentum behind this nutrient removal dates back several administrations to the ‘90s. A number of plants in northern Illinois are under construction. The emphasis on who had to conform to the new limits first was on those who discharged to impaired streams. The rest of the 218 major treatment facilities not located on impaired streams are now seeing the requirements in their permits,” Stein said.
Springfield has rebuilt one of its treatment plans and made modifications to another. Peoria has made substantial modifications to its operations.
The reasons for the lower limits have to do with the huge dead spot in the Gulf of Mexico and water quality in rivers leading to the Gulf. Phosphorus affects algae growth in fresh water. Nitrogen tends to hurt salt water environments. Excess nutrients promote algae growth which consumes oxygen and a lack of oxygen kills riverine and marine life.
Stein said nitrate and phosphorus levels in Bloomington Normal effluence are relatively low compared to Decatur and Springfield and the industries in those towns.
Nevertheless, the stricter standards require more complex operations than BNWRD currently uses.
“When plants were built in the 1920s to 1980s, dissolved oxygen in our treatment process was a good thing. The more oxygen in that process, the more aerobic it becomes and the bacteria that we promote really like that. But, in order to remove phosphorus at some point we have to starve our bugs for oxygen. In order for them to survive they have to look into the chemical availability of oxygen and that’s where phosphorus is released. So, we have to maintain a delicate balance between aerobic and anoxic condition in the tanks and this becomes more difficult. Stein said
He said detention time for waste water will not change much, and the goal is "relatively easily obtainable," though technically demanding, said Stein.
“The cruise control on an automobile can regulate the auto to one mile an hour. When it comes to dissolved oxygen levels, we will have to be very careful in much finer regulation. So, we would have to make a cruise control for an automobile to regulate the speed in tenths of miles per hour. We have to have enough oxygen to keep the bacteria alive, but at some point we have to stress them,” said Stein.
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