The cost of flushing a Bellevue toilet significantly increased last week.
The Bellevue City Council—except absent Councilman Jon Wilkes—voted unanimously Thursday, Aug. 25, to raise the city's sewer rates by approximately 179 percent. The rate hike paves the way for the city to replace its wastewater facility—a necessary action to correct violations.
The approved rate increase—from $19.55 per month to $35 per month—came in anticipation of a bond election slated in November to provide financing for a set of large-scale improvements to the city's wastewater treatment facilities.
The existing collection system installed in the early 1990s will not accommodate expected pressures of growth. The treatment system's lagoons are approaching capacity and do not meet discharge permit requirements, specifically exceeding standards for nitrate levels.
"We have been violating the (Department of Environmental Quality) requirements lately," Mayor Jon Anderson explained.
The failure to comply with the state's DEQ could cost the city thousands of dollars.
"It is possible we could have to pay $1,000 a day and have to build a new facility," Anderson said.
Currently the city is not being fined due to its work to address the issue.
"We feel the city has been moving forward to correct the problem," said Idaho DEQ engineer Gregory Misbach, who monitors the city's plant.
The city operates with a wastewater land application permit from the state. The land application approach utilizes a lagoon treatment system to treat sewage before it is applied to fields. The permit places a limit of 20 parts per million as the maximum allowable nitrogen levels for septic system discharge.
In recent years the city's nitrogen levels have spiked beyond the legal limit. High nitrogen levels present concern because the compound could contaminate the city's groundwater.
Rather than fine the municipality, Misbach said, "The route we intend to take, is to sit down and negotiate a compliance agreement."
On Thursday, the council voted to draft a consent letter to DEQ that outlines the council's compliance plan.
In June, Meridian-based engineering firm Keller Associates presented a Bellevue Wastewater Facilities Planning Study to the city. Keller Associates evaluated alternatives for treatment systems according to a 4 percent projected annual growth for the city. The evaluation considered disposal options to accommodate growth and meet regulations. Capital and operating and maintenance costs also factored into the treatment alternatives.
On Thursday, the council considered a new alternative—exporting waste to the Hailey treatment plant.
"It is not appearing to be a significant savings to the city (of Bellevue)," said James Mullen, project manager for Keller Associates.
With preliminary numbers projecting a $3.7 million total project cost for Bellevue to connect to Hailey's facility, the council moved forward to finesse costs that would keep the wastewater facility in Bellevue.
The council weighed the appropriate cost and capacity of installing a membrane bio-reactor system at the site of the current plant. The estimated cost of the project depends on the capacity the city decided to build into the system.
Mullen presented two alternatives. Construction on either plant would likely begin in 2007.
At the low end is a system with capacity to treat 250,000 gallons of wastewater per day. The system would cover existing use and approximately 100 additional hookups. Estimated to cost $5.6 million, the low-capacity option does not account for any major annexations or changes in density within the city.
Although the proposed system is conducive to expansion, Councilman Shaun Mahoney said the council should build flexibility into their choice. He provided the example of a high-density housing development within city limits as a population shift that could strain the lower-capacity system.
"We do recommend the 500,000 gallon-per-day system because you do have the growth that is going to come in," Mullen said.
Mullen's figures estimate an $8 million cost for the larger facility.
"I don't want to go too high, I want to keep costs down," Councilman Steve Fairbrother said.
The council requested the engineers examine capacity options within the cost boundaries presented.
The council will conduct a public hearing on the matter on Sept. 12.