Snohomish sewer rates flattening thanks to agreement
SNOHOMISH - The city of Snohomish and the state Department of Ecology have reached an agreement that was approved by the City Council last week that solidifies plans to keep wastewater treatment “at home,” and keeps sewer rates the same for now.
“This is a really big deal for our community,” city manager Larry Bauman said. “It’s really going to turn around how our wastewater treatment is conducted and how it will affect our ratepayers.”
The city had been in negotiations with Ecology for this agreement since November 2012, when they decided to approach the agency with an alternative plan that focused on improving the existing Snohomish sewage plant versus the existing plan to build a $40 million sewage pipeline to Everett. The pipeline was cheaper than building a whole new plant.
If the city decided to stay on course to send sewage to Everett, ratepayers would have seen a 80 percent increase in sewer rates over the next few years, Bauman said. Now, with this new agreement, rates are expected to remain the same for wastewater rates.
The journey to wastewater treatment redemption began shortly after September 2010, when Ecology first negotiated the agreement with the City to use a schedule of milestones in order to get the sewage plant back into compliance for its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
A few methods were established to tackle two major developments: Improving the plant and stopping sewer overflows into the river because of heavy rains.
“We’ve been able to find, with the help of state legislature, a project to fix the combined sewer problem, which was a $4.8 million project, to meet state requirements,” Bauman said. Cities are legally allowed to only have one overflow each year.2012 numbers.
An overflow happens usually because storm water and sewer pipes are combined, and when it rains heavily the added storm water causes the pipe to exceed the capacity of what the sewage plant can take in and what the pipe can hold. In Snohomish, the excess water goes into the Snohomish River.
It’s working: A project separating pipes started September 2011, and in the past three years, the city has only experienced one overflow total.
Another win for the city came from installing “bacteria hotels” that munch up sewage.
These submerged fixed bed biofilm reactor systems (SFBBRS) cubes — or, “bacteria hotels” — are a series of 54 cubes that are attached to media supports that grow in the plant’s treatment lagoons.
The cubes have been helping getting the city get into compliance with its permit.
In fact, the result of these efforts have reduced city permit effluent violations from 109 in the previous four years (2006 to 2009) to just seven in the last four years (2010 to 2013).
“This dramatic improvement in treatment plant performance provided the basis of developing a new strategy for incremental and far less costly improvements to the city’s existing plant,” a city report in the agreement states.
The city also has to get the plant up to Ecology’s permit standards under the agreement.
The city’s agreement commits the city to: Submit to Ecology a combined sewer overflow (CSO) separation plan, submit to Ecology a CSO flow management plan, submit to Ecology a draft and final biosolids sampling plans and a draft biosolids management plan to address buildup of sludge in its treatment lagoons, submit to Ecology a performance assessment and if necessary a diagnostic report concerning its integrated media system improvements, and other reports.
The city and its engineering consultants are confident that the strategy will work and result in great improvements that will satisfy current and future discharge permit requirements; however, Ecology had insisted that plans to construct the pipeline to Everett for treatment remain an alternate or backup option.
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