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Monticello, Monroe mull phosphorous level options
MONTICELLO - Area municipalities are looking for solutions to a looming requirement by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to lower phosphorous levels.

Monticello is one of the first scheduled to comply with the permit issued by the DNR, Bart Nies, vice president and civil engineer with Delta 3 Engineering of Platteville, said during the Monticello Village Board meeting Wednesday.

Changes were announced by the DNR in 2011 that any municipal wastewater treatment plants must discharge no more than 0.075 milligrams per liter of phosphorous into a nearby water source after the water runs through the facility. Deadlines to implement the changes from the previous 1 milligram per liter maximum vary by municipality.

Members of the village board considered three options during the meeting.

One was Clearas, a phosphorous system meant to bolster the growth of algae that consumes excess material in the water. The algae would then be filtered and taken back by the Clearas company, which would pay the village for the material.

"I was hopeful this was going to be the solution," Nies said, referencing the Clearas system paying $1 per pound. Nies added that he was recently informed the price the company would pay the village dropped to 20 cents per pound.

Though the system would reduce costs with revenue and a savings in chemical expenses, Nies said the project of roughly $3.7 million would still cost the village roughly $36,000 annually.

Another option, which would be the least expensive of the three, was to arrange water quality trading contracts with local landowners. The village would have an agreement with those who own crops near water sources. The arrangement would outline that planters operate farther away from an embankment and receive compensation from the municipality for their loss in materials.

Nies said total expenses would range between $700,000 to $1 million because of unknown costs.

Village board members discussed the viability of arranging contracts through land trading. Nies said a potential benefit is the number of local groups oriented toward improving and protecting the environment. The process would be enforced through credits, Nies said. Part of the agreements would be to put in place "best management practices," like fencing streams, updating barnyards and making different types of repairs.

Trustee Stephen Scanlan expressed hesitation, along with fellow board members Dan Pederson and John Teasdale, over the prospect of signing agreements with local landowners. Nies explained the trading agreements could work if contract partners are identified.

"There's not much difference between where you're at now and where you gotta be," Nies said. "If the Clearas had come in close, I would have wholeheartedly recommended that, but we're not even in the ballpark."

The board eventually chose disc filtration after voicing additional concerns over the DNR enforcement of land trading. The filtration system would be put in place downstream of any final sedimentation tanks, which also filter water. Delta 3 estimated the cost of implementing the system to be roughly $1.7 million, with construction, engineering and contingency costs included.

Teasdale moved to update the wastewater treatment plant with seven other planned priorities, including updates to the pump station, buildings, an oxidation ditch, disinfection and site improvements, life station no. 2 near East Lake, a laboratory building, service building, sludge storage, existing electrical service, the chemical feed system and a splitter box.

Priorities one through eight had already been identified as needs for the facility. Teasdale said it would be "foolish" not to do all of the projects at once because separating them would cost the village more money in the end.

"It makes no sense to do this piecemeal," he said.

The board noted the updates of more than $4.7 million were likely to increase water rates for citizens. Trustees agreed with Clerk DaNean Naeger to schedule a public hearing to consider different options for rate increases.

Monroe has been grappling with phosphorous counts as well, though may still pursue the water quality trading program that Monticello passed over. While the village needed to have a plan reported to DNR officials by March 31, Monroe has until the summer of 2019 to make a decision.

Engineering firm Fehr Graham was hired March 5 by the Monroe Board of Public Works to help the city choose between three options as well. Utilities Supervisor Mike Kennison said unlike Monticello, the city may consider water quality trading with landowners because the current use of bio phosphorous treatment has reduced its output to 0.075 during some parts of the year.

"We are almost there," Kennison said. "Bio P does a good job."

As a result, city officials believe contracts with local landowners might be the best option, but until Fehr Graham produces its findings, Kennison said the city hasn't made a decision. An implementation plan must be submitted to the DNR from Monroe by June 2019 and compliance must be met by 2020.