Mayor’s Update #15: City to Build New Wastewater Plant
By Mayor Bruce Peele
The City’s wastewater plant is on its last legs. Its permit must be renewed in less than three years. In its present condition, it will not meet the future requirements of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Either extensive repairs and upgrades will have to be done or a new plant must be constructed. Doing nothing is not an option as the City will face stiff fines for its non-compliance with TCEQ standards. After years of benign neglect, it’s time to pay the Piper.
The City’s current wastewater plant is an “irrigation” style facility where wastewater is discharged through an irrigation system onto a field where it soaks in.
Unfortunately, three years ago the City relinquished its right to renew its lease to irrigate on land next to the wastewater plant. The City also allowed the land owner to fence off three quarters of one of the fields where it formally irrigated.
Instead, the City purchased 110 acres next to the wastewater plant on the false assumption that it could be used for wastewater irrigation. Half the land is on a steep hillside and the flat portion requires a 150’ buffer zone between land irrigated with wastewater and private property. The small useable portion of the 110 acres that remains is insufficient to meet the City’s current needs much less those of the future.
While the 110 acres may not be usable for irrigation, the purchase did provide some benefits by getting rid of a protest that had been filed to the permit renewal application. Also, the City ended up with real estate that likely has increased in value and might be sold to partially finance the new wastewater plant.
The City holds a permit from TCEQ to discharge directly into the Blanco River. This is sometimes necessary when the ground is saturated after heavy rains and it will not absorb irrigated wastewater. But to discharge into the river the water must meet higher TCEQ water quality standards. The City currently meets those standards but, as the requirements will become more stringent in the future, the City will lose the State discharge permit in 2018 unless significant upgrades are made to the wastewater treatment facility.
Unless action is taken now, in two years we will have no land on which to irrigate and no permit to discharge into the river. In two years’ time the City of Blanco will find itself with no way to discharge its wastewater.
On May 24th, the City’s contracted engineering firm, Jones-Heroy and Associates, presented three options to the Blanco City Council. Option 1, “Do Nothing,” was deemed nonviable as the current plant does not meet the 2018 standards and, unless corrected, the City will face huge fines for its non-compliance.
Option 2, “Give up the Discharge Permit and Rely Exclusively on Irrigation” was not recommended as the City will have very limited land on which to irrigate after its lease expires. Furthermore, Option 2 would cost as much as Option 3 (below) and would use valuable land to irrigate on. While the City could possibly purchase adjacent land, it would be expensive and time consuming, likely extending beyond the 2018 deadline for renewing the City’s discharge permit and leaving the City with no way to handle its wastewater.
Option 3, “Build a New Wastewater Plant,” was recommended and approved by the City Council as a “no brainer” decision. The new plant will use some of the present settlement ponds but be of an entirely different design. The plant will use the latest technology and will produce water sufficiently clean to be discharged into the Blanco River or, preferably, sold for reuse. The proposed plant will be expandable to meet future needs as the City of Blanco grows. Furthermore, Option 3 will provide the City with the opportunity to sell or use the 110 acres in a way that is in the best interest of the City.
The estimated cost of the new wastewater plant -- with a capacity sufficient to meet our current needs -- is $3,200,000. The City is now consulting with our Financial Advisors to determine the most cost effective way to build and maintain the new wastewater plant.
A future Mayor’s Update will cover the need for a new or significantly upgraded City Water Treatment Plant.