10/19/17 – The city of Beaver Dam is looking at investing millions of dollars to limit the phosphorus that goes into the river from its wastewater treatment plant. Shortly after the plant was built in 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated strict phosphorus limitations as part of the permitting process. It was estimated that the new regulations would force the city to pay nearly $15-million dollars for upgrades to their new treatment plant along with millions more in annual operating costs. In 2014, the city council voted to hire a law firm, at a cost not to exceed $100-thousand dollars, to fight the permit requirement.
Utility Director Rob Minnema told city officials this week that after three years a possible agreement has been reached with the EPA via the Department of Natural Resources that still requires strict phosphorus limits but also allows the city to evaluate its alternatives while bypassing some benchmarks. Minnema says the city explored several options including water quality trading, adaptive management and building a new treatment plant. He says based on where Beaver Dam is located in relation to the watershed, most options are not viable. Minnema says options that include investments in filtration systems and chemicals, or both, are costly. He says the most cost-effective plan would be to build a $24.3-million-dollar facility connected to the treatment plant. As part of the plan introduced to elected officials this week, the city would construct what’s called an Advanced Biological Nutrient Recovery system that would take phosphorus and nitrogen and convert it to a biomass that can be turned into a plastic-like pellet. Minnema says that pellet has industrial uses and could be sold for use in things like running shoes. That revenue, combined with a plan that would allow other communities to use the Beaver Dam facility, could generate up to $1-million dollars a year.
The timelines from the initial permit that Beaver Dam challenged would still apply to the proposed new permit, which would be reissued. The first step required would be to put together a facilities plan. Construction on a new facility would have to be complete and compliance achieved by July of 2023, which Minnema notes is a hard deadline. The common council will be asked in three weeks to sign-off on a letter of intent to evaluate the proposed biomass conversion upgrade as part of the facilities plan. There would be no financial commitment at that time.