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Phosphorus plans put on table PDF Print E-mail
Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Wednesday, 19 July 2017 18:37

Village Board to consider options ranging from about $100,000 to $2.5 million

An engineering firm presented options to the Public Utilities Committee last week on how the Village of Belgium could meet the new phosphorus limit in its wastewater.
Per a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources requirement, by 2022 wastewater from the village must meet a new limit of .075 milligrams of phosphorus per liter, down from the past limit of 1 milligram, because its wastewater flows into Belgium Holland Creek, a tributary of the Onion River.
The wastewater treatment plant uses a diluting preservative called Sorbex, which “sometimes” gets the phosphorus level to .1 milligram, Wastewater Supt. Paul Bley said, “but not the .075 that we need.”
Sorbex has recently quadrupled in price since it’s being imported from China after a mine in California closed, and Bley said he can’t afford to use the chemical anymore.
Options to bring the phosphorus level in line range from upgrading the treatment plant to working with local farmers to change their practices, McMahon engineers Nick Vande Hey and Anthony Kappell told the committee July 13.
The most expensive fix calls for installation of a continuous backwash upflow sand filter for $2.5 million. Adding two different kinds of disk filters come in at $1.5 million each.
Applying for a statewide variance would cost the village $50 per pound of phosphorus discharged, which engineers said could cost from $6,500 to $19,000 per year for 15 years and would require approval from the DNR and Environmental Protection Agency.
But at the end of the 15-year period, a permanent plan to reach the phosphorus limit would have to be in place, Kappell said. Trustee Rose Sauers compared that option to kicking the can down the line.
Water quality trading is a less-expensive option in which the village would enter a legal agreement with farmers in the Onion River sub-basin to change their farming methods to reduce phosphorus levels. The cost, though significantly less than treatment plant upgrades, depends on what farmers demand in return.
Vande Hey said the option relies on finding farmers willing to participate. Agencies could offer cost-sharing options to farmers, he said.
In the scenarios the engineers presented, water trading would allow the treatment plant to discharge .4 milligrams of phosphorus per liter.
Vande Hey said no-till farming, or no-plow, is the most effective phosphorus reducer, but Bley said that technique doesn’t work well in the Belgium area. McMahon’s engineers estimate 300 acres would be required at a cost of $130,000 over 20 years.
Mulch tilling would call for about 800 acres and cost $300,000 over 20 years, engineers estimate.
Another alternative is planting cover crops, such as growing grass in between rows of corn. Engineers estimate it would require 700 acres and cost about $400,000 over 20 years.
The village could buy land and rent it to a farmer with requirements on how to farm it, or turn it into a prairie. The latter choice would require an estimated 80 to 90 acres at $10,000 per acre, according to engineers.
“You buy land, it’s still an asset,” Vande Hey said.
“And we’re in control,” Director of Public Works Dan Birenbaum said.
The village may use a combination of the water quality trading options. Acreage does not need to be contiguous, engineers said.
Sauers asked if grants are available to offset the costs. Engineers said the village could apply for financial help via the state’s Clean Water Fund Program.
The phosphorus level is an average of a six-month reading, usually from May to October, engineers said. Exceeding the phosphorus limit could lead to daily fines that could reach $10,000, they said.
Whatever plan the village chooses must be implemented by 2022. A final compliance plan is due Sept. 30.
The committee didn’t make a recommendation to the Village Board, instead requesting that McMahon’s engineers explain the options to all the trustees in a workshop before making a decision on what alternatives to pursue.

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