Green River City Council Considers New Waste Water Treatment Plant Options

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Green River Public Works Director Mark Westenskow presents a chart of the water/sewer rates in Green River from the early 90s and projections to 2028.

GREEN RIVER — The Green River City Council tooks its first steps in addressing the future of the county’s waste water treatment plant at its regular meeting last night.

Council voted unanimously to authorize the submission of an application to Wyoming’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program in the amount of $27.6M for the construction phase of a new treatment plant.

Public Works Director Mark Westenskow presented council with two options for the plant. The first proposed upgrading the current facility for about $18M that would extend its life by about 10 years. The second proposed building a new plant for roughly $30M that would last approximately 40 years.

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A Brief History

The current plant was built in 1962 and the last renovation was completed in 1989, according to Westenskow. A masterplan was developed and completed in 2015 that addressed the life of the plant and current issues concerning plant management.

“The masterplan found that we are currently able to meet our existing discharge requirements, but there are a lot of the mechanical systems that are beginning to reach the end of their useful lives,” Westenskow said. “We’ve had to replace pumps and blowers and motors many of which aren’t manufactured anymore.”

When that happens, parts must be custom-built which can be expensive. Westenskow also said there are structural concerns with several areas of the plant.

“We are actually one of the largest lagoon systems in the country. That technology is not able to address nitrogen and phosphorous discharge requirements,” he continued. “Those are a contributing factor to the algae blooms that you hear about on the Gorge. We are considered a point source for nitrogen and phosphorous.”

Plant management was able to secure $2.4M for the design of a new facility from the CWSRF Loan Program which should be done by the end of the year, according to Westenskow. The next step would be turning that design into the DEQ for approval, and then securing construction funding and permits to start the new facility.

Rising Rates

The City of Green River City has traditionally been able to keep water rates well below the state average. When DEQ rolls out its new regulations for water treatment plants in Wyoming, it will grant variances to communities that can’t meet their discharge requirements based on current technology “to the extent that it is affordable,” Westenskow said.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines “affordable” as rates that are less than one percent of the annual median household income. Green River’s annual median household is $73,225. Based on this equation, Westenskow said the EPA would determine that Green River could afford to build a new plant on its own.

Waste water is an enterprise fund and has to operate like a business by covering its costs, said Westenskow. So when city officials approach the CWSRF Loan Program about funding for a new plant the state “wants to see that we have skin in the game,” he added.

Part of that approach is being proactive about where rates need to be which city officials have done with the development of the masterplan. That plan is calling for a gradual increase in rates to the year 2028, when average rates will be an estimated $52/month. That will put Green River in the middle of the road on average compared to other municipalities in Wyoming, according to City Clerk Chris Meats.

Council Response

While the council voted unanimously to move forward on the resolution, Councilman Gary Killpack stated that his first responsibility is to his constituents. He worried that a rate increase might have a serious financial impact on senior citizens and others making below the annual median household income.

“It’s my responsibility to the citizens to keep those rates as low as I can,” Killpack said.

Meats told the board that the increases would come gradually with a new facility because the city could pay off the loan at 2% interest over 30 years. If the city decided to go the short route and just repair the existing facility, “I would have to raise rates immediately” should a major reparation project develop.

He also said the city could explore a low-income rate that it would have to determine “because state statutes don’t.”

Airport Funding

In other council news, the board voted unanimously to allocate its share of funding in the amount $72,957.90 for the Wyoming Commercial Air Service Improvement Plan at the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport.

Green River’s share of the agreement, which includes partnerships with Rock Springs and the county, is 22% of the total billing.