(Waupun) The Waupun Common Council Tuesday night approved what will amount to a 32-percent sewer rate increase. The rate change will be phased in at approximately 7.2-percent annually over a four-year period, starting in April. Waupun Public Utilities Finance Director Jared Oosterhouse says for a customer using 400 cubic feet of water on a monthly basis, their estimated yearly increase will be around $19. He says when comparing what customer’s paid in 2019 to what they will pay for a full year in 2023, the final year of the rate increase, the estimated jump would be $76.
The factor driving the rate increase is mandated upgrades to the city’s wastewater utility plant to reduce phosphorus in their treatment facility. The Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Natural Resources are requiring waterfront communities like Waupun to place strict limits on the phosphorus that is released into local waterways, in this case the Rock River by 2025.
The recommended process to meet the requirements is an Advanced Biological Nutrient Recovery System with an estimated cost of $32.3-million to construct and install the needed equipment. In 2018, the city secured $32.2-million dollars from the USDA Rural Utility Service Division to fund the project. Roughly $9.5-million dollars is grant funding while the remainder is a low-interest loan to be paid back over a 40 year period at just over two-percent. Oosterhouse says following a sewer rate analysis, it was determined that existing sewer rates were deficient in supporting projected annual operations, maintenance, capital improvements and the USDA loan’s debt service.
Oosterhouse says the nutrient system being installed will generate revenue by taking phosphorus from wastewater and converting it to an algae-based biomass that can be sold for a profit. He says the dollars could be used towards the USDA loan, shortening the 40-year repayment timeframe. The project is scheduled to go out for bid in fall of this year with construction anticipated in the spring of 2021. The upgraded facility is expected to be fully operational in 2023.