EQSD engineer recommends districts collaborate for new treatment plant
Quincy’s two service districts aren’t likely to consolidate in the near future. But an engineer’s report recommended they join forces to tackle the valley’s wastewater treatment problem.
East Quincy Services District engineer Dan Bastian recommended the districts collaborate in an effort to build a new treatment plant.
“I’m not saying consolidation,” Bastian said. “I’m talking about a collaborative approach to find a solution to this problem.”
He said the problem is the town’s wastewater treatment plant is outdated. And the cost to upgrade the facility could range between $13 million and $53 million.
“Those are big numbers,” Bastian told residents during a meeting Monday, Jan. 30, at Pioneer Elementary School.
Bastian, who was commissioned by the East Quincy board to conduct the “pre-feasibility” study, outlined his findings and recommendations during a detailed 90-minute presentation.
East Quincy’s board asked for the study to see if it was feasible to build its own wastewater treatment plant, instead of paying to pipe its sewage to Quincy’s aging facility.
Bastian’s report, which he said was “the first phase” of the process, stated that a new plant made sense for many reasons.
After providing input and asking questions, the audience applauded the engineer’s efforts.
“I think Dan has done a very, very good job on this report,” East Quincy resident Les Ellis said. “There is a huge amount of technical information here. I would like to take the time to have a look at the complete report.”
Copies of the draft report were available at the meeting. Copies are also available for valley residents at the East Quincy Services District office.
Bastian also recommended taking the next step in the process, which would involve finding the money to pay for a more detailed study.
Greg Margason, chairman of the East Quincy board of directors, said he wanted the item on the agenda for the next American Valley Community Services Authority meeting March 21. AVCSA is a joint board comprised of the directors from both districts.
Three Quincy board members were on hand for Bastian’s presentation. They listened intently and didn’t contradict any of the engineer’s findings during the question and answer session.
Quincy’s general manager Larry Sullivan said a QCSD engineer was reviewing Bastian’s report.
He said he appreciated that Bastian consulted with the Quincy district during his research.
The project study report outlined how a wastewater treatment plant works. It detailed the problems Quincy is facing with its plant and the options available for building a new one.
Quincy’s wastewater treatment plant, which was built in the mid-1980s, no longer meets the state’s increasingly rigid effluent (treated wastewater) limitations for contaminants such as copper, ammonia, lead and silver.
The plant has been operating under a cease and desist order since 2010.
The state’s order gave Quincy five years to reduce the amount of contaminants it discharges into Spanish Creek. It must be in compliance by 2015 or face penalties.
The Regional Water Quality Control Board is allowing Quincy “dilution credits.” A dilution credit allows for a higher effluent discharge concentration if it can be demonstrated that the mixed effluent (creek water) still satisfies the water quality objective.
However, according to a 2010 report from one of Quincy’s engineering firms (Carollo Engineers), the plant won’t be able to meet the ammonia standard by 2015.
The district has reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on infrastructure to help achieve dilution credits.
“For example, the diffuser going into Spanish Creek … cost the district around $280,000,” Bastian said. “(Quincy) had to also install a gauging station upstream on Spanish Creek in order to justify the (water) flow rates that would allow them to discharge to the creek. It’s a very sophisticated system.”
Bastian’s report said Quincy estimated it would cost about $24,000 per year just to maintain that system.
“They have been painted deeply into a corner,” Bastian said. “And it’s a very difficult situation.”
Bastian added the treatment plant is operating at about 95 percent capacity based on a 2007 Carollo study. He said the plant is actually processing twice as much waste as it was designed to handle.
His report said Quincy’s options for the plant’s effluent compliance are unrealistically expensive.
According to Carollo, an option that would require an oxidation ditch, secondary clarification, disinfection and utilization of wetlands would cost about $36,718,000.
An option using aeration basins with membrane bioreactors, disinfection and wetlands would cost $53,500,000.
Bastian said a $13,000,000 option wouldn’t guarantee the plant would meet the state’s increasingly strict standards.
Quincy is spending about $4,000,000 (which includes an $800,000 grant) to fix its old, leaky collection system (the sewer pipes running to the treatment plant). Bastian said Quincy was sending almost three times the amount of water to the plant as East Quincy — sometimes more during heavy rain.
However, that ratio is reportedly improving thanks to the repairs that are under way.
A new plant
Based on a proposal from FOP Development Group, Bastian estimated it could cost about $9.5 million to build a decentralized wastewater treatment plant for East Quincy.
The plant itself would be about $6 million. The other $3.5 million would cover the estimated costs of land acquisition, environmental studies, permits, etc. But he emphasized the district hasn’t decided on a company to build a new plant.
Some audience members voiced skepticism about the $9.5 million figure, saying it would probably be much higher.
An unidentified man asked how “$9.5 million could fix a problem that would take $35 million to fix across the valley.”
Bastian said he hasn’t fully analyzed the cost of a new plant. He said that would be included in the study’s next phase. He said he was using the FOP bid as an example.
FOP Director of Business Development Gary Taormina was in the audience. He insisted the $6 million number was accurate for a plant to service East Quincy. After the meeting, he said a plant large enough to serve both districts would “probably be $12 million to $15 million.” That figure didn’t include land acquisition, studies and permits.
During the presentation, Bastian referred to a new plant as “the black box” because of all the unknowns. He used an area called “the East Bresciani site” as a possible location.
He said that site (between Bell Lane, Lee Road and Quincy Junction Road) was the preferred site when East Quincy considered building a plant in 1994.
Resident Kathy Felker echoed the audience sentiment when she told Bastian she didn’t want to see another sewer plant in the “small little valley.”
“Why couldn’t you put this (new) plant over by the current sewer plant?”
Bastian told Felker that was a good question. He reminded the audience that the question would be addressed during the study’s second phase.
He said he would ideally like any new plant to be a “land disposal” operation with “zero discharge” into the creek.
He said that although zero discharge requires more land, there are many advantages. He said it would be cheaper and allow for less-restrictive effluent limitations.
“Potentially you would get rid of the problems Quincy is faced with right now in trying to meet dilution credits,” Bastian said. “Is zero discharge possible? I think so.”
East Quincy pays Quincy about $330,000 per year to use the treatment plant. Bastian predicted that cost would rise to just over $400,000 annually in six years. He said that is about the same amount as yearly loan payments East Quincy would make for its own plant.
Bastian said the monthly wastewater treatment cost was one of the reasons East Quincy “decided to step back from consolidation.”
“They (EQSD board members) were just trying to make sure that before they made that commitment, they knew what that meant,” he said.
Bastian said that if East Quincy stopped paying Quincy to use its treatment plant, customers in the Quincy district would notice an immediate 46 percent rate increase.
Bastian used the word “collaboration” about a dozen times during his presentation.
“I believe it would be highly advantageous,” Bastian said. “Because it provides facilities and areas and assets that I think are valuable on the Quincy side.”
If the two service district boards agree to move forward together, Bastian said the first step would be to jointly apply for a Community Development Block Grant with the help of Plumas County.
He said the county is eligible to compete for $100,000 that would help pay for the more detailed phase two feasibility study.
The second study would “compile and analyze all the data that would be needed in order to do the planning, engineering, permitting and funding associated with a new decentralized wastewater treatment plant,” he said.
Bastian said the Indian Valley Community Services District is already vying for a share of the $100,000 block grant.
He also recommended the districts apply for a $1 million grant offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.
That money would be used to help pay for a treatment plant.