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Friday — March 5, 2004


Bellevue water
and sewer systems
reach capacity

Water study illuminates impact problems

Express Staff Writer

From the source to the sewer, Bellevue’s municipal water services have reached their capacity 10 years ahead of predictions.

The sewer system in winter is not treating effluent sufficiently and the water distribution system in summer threatens to burn out pump motors, but the city is busy seeking remedies.

Bellevue City Superintendent Brian Whipple explains the problems with Bellevue’s municipal sewage treatment plant. Express photos by David N. Seelig

Prior to 1992 all homes in Bellevue had septic systems for treating wastewater. Built for $3.2 million in 1992 the municipal system was given a 20-year life span, but it is bumping up against design limitations 10 years early, especially during winter months when microorganisms that digest contaminants slow down.

The distribution system for the city’s water source, two wells and a spring that are funneled through a single storage tank is taxed because demand often outweighs collection capacity. The biggest impact comes during hot summer days when lawn sprinkling demands are highest. Water pumps get little rest as they work to keep the storage tank filled to ensure that required fire flows are maintained.

This winter the city sewer system is exceeding standards for nitrate levels. Last summer the water storage tank at times was drained too low to maintain sufficient pressure for operating fire hydrants sufficiently, city staff said.

A water distribution study presented last month by Forsgren and Associates, the city’s engineering firm showed how subdivisions under construction or awaiting approval in the city will have substantial impact putting the city at risk of having low flow rates if any part of the system fails.

"There is no redundancy in the system," said Steven Yearsley of Forsgren and Associates. He also warned that the city should prepare for pump breakdowns as the latest development comes on line and further tax city pumps. "I am really concerned about the Shantrel well. If it went offline (during peak use periods), there would only be a day and a half of water in the tank."

At the other end of the system the city is at risk of contaminating ground water. Brian Whipple, Bellevue city superintendent, said last week that the nitrate levels, 50 parts per million for nitrites, is what can be expected from septic systems but exceeds state standards for municipal treatment systems.

City effluent empties through two pipes into a chain of three treatment ponds at the treatment plant, four miles south of the city. In the first treatment pond underwater aeration pipes feed oxygen to the microorganisms, but due to the organisms’ winter lethargy, the treatment ponds essentially become holding tanks causing nitrite levels to increase, Whipple said.

In the summer treated wastewater is applied to fields adjacent to the sewer plant. In the winter treated effluent is recharged into the ground and potential for groundwater contamination is a concern, Whipple said.

"The sewer system, according to our engineers, can handle the present and future growth within the city limits as far as volume," said Jack Stoneback, city administrator. "However we do have some problems with our nitrites."

A feasibility study of the system is pending. The city has budgeted $120,000 to pay for the work and has retained another engineering firm, Boise-based Keller and Associates design the study.

To get the city through the interim and bring it closer to state standards, Whipple last month got approval from the city council to purchase equipment that will further churn up the effluent ponds and feed more oxygen to the microorganisms to further improving their efficiency.

"If you keep them happy, (the microorganisms) do what you want. They break down waste solids," he said. "There’s a lot of work to do out there, but the problem is not one that can’t be fixed."

Planning for the next level of city infrastructure could be completed this year.

"(Keller and Associates) will take into consideration future growth and the impact it will have on our system," Stoneback said. "(The study) will tell us what have to do to accommodate future growth whether it is five years out or ten years out."

The cost of improvements to the city’s water and sewer systems is yet to be determined. But, city council members said completing the sewer feasibility study and a water distribution system study, not yet planned could help the city secure outside funding for any necessary improvements.

The city sewer system now in place cost the city just over $1 million. The loan will be paid in full in 2013. The $1.7 million balance on the project was paid through a state grant.


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