Wildcat Wastewater Plant not making the grade

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The issues of an expanding city are coming to fruition on Wildcat Hill for Flagstaff citizens and city council members. The city council recently held a work session on Feb. 26 regarding alternative solutions for the Wildcat Hill Wastewater Treatment Facility to reach an A+ water quality rating.

The difference between grade A ratings, which the plant currently operates under, and A+ is the excessive difference in nitrogen levels, usually resulting from solid waste. Operators and councilmembers claim Flagstaff’s explosive growth contributes to the reasons why the wastewater plant has been unable to keep up. Additionally, it currently lacks the mechanical dewatering needed to deal with the massive amounts of solid waste, or sludge, that needs to be processed.

However, the economic cost to increase the recycled water from A to A+ could reach upwards of $400,000 to $500,000. With the money, a temporary geo-bag fix could be purchased, which would last for two to five years. Further upgrades to address the long term issues of population growth and solid waste growth will be discussed at a later date by the councilmembers.

Brad Hill, utilities director of Flagstaff, clarified what type of situation the Wildcat Waste Water Plant has been undergoing in the past few years and the current struggle to gain A+ treated water quality.

“If I can be candid, as leader of the utilities department, this is not my finest hour to have to stand before you to talk to you about the regulator challenge that the Wildcat Hill Waste Treatment has been facing,” Hill said at the city council work session.

The utilities director went into further detail about these challenges and why it has been increasingly difficult to maintain the highest regulation standards.

“We have not met the expectations of our community or our regulatory permits by not treating it to the highest quality known as class A+ and we haven’t done so because of three challenges,” Hill said. “Since January 2010, we haven’t consistently been removing nitrogen below the limits. More recently, we have seen selenium and cyanide show up in our sampling.”

The director then introduced Ryan Roberts, engineering manager for Flagstaff utilities, to expand on the possible alternatives to reach this class A+ rating.

“[One] of the issues that this city would like to address for this temporary dewatering system is to reduce levels of solids in the SSBs (Solid Settling Basins). When the SSBs are full of sludge they don’t operate correctly,” Roberts said.

Roberts introduced some temporary, cost-effective alternatives to the council members.

“The staff has looked at multiple alternatives for this solution and the staff has recommended going with alternative number three. Alternative number three is the geo-fabric option show and that is more closely related to our plant process,” Roberts said.

The council debated for a time but eventually was posed with the inevitable reality: either these expenses must be paid in order to achieve A+ treated water. Most of the council sided with the notion that there needs to be a temporary fix to make the treated water A+ and create long term solutions for the future.

Councilmember Jeff Oravits summarized a general consensus that the council had been leaning toward.

“I definitely don’t want to reduce our quality,” Orvatis said. “I think we need to deliver A+ water. We need to fix the problem if its temporary and we need to do what we need to do to deliver that water; we need to start working on a long term plan to fix that plan and to deliver A+ water consistently.”

Karla Brewster, continuing off of Oravits statement, agreed and the council eventually came to a consensus the temporary solution of geo-textile that was supported by the utility staff was the best option until a further long term plan can be developed. While the geo-textile is only a limited solution to a larger problem, the council and utilities staff have been taking steps to address the large problem of solid waste in a growing community such as Flagstaff.






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