New Sewer Plant Information


As information becomes available we will be posing it on this site.     

Flyer mailed out to residents with the February Utility Bill

Information on Why a new plant is needed

New Sewer Plant Frequently Asked Questions


Salem City has been receiving questions about the new sewer plant project.     These questions were not answered in the flyer that was sent out, so we thought we would put the questions here along with the answers.   

Note:  Questions 1 - 10 were on the flyer that were mailed out in February.   

1.    Why do we need to do this?

Lower discharge limits are the primary reason. New regulations have lowered ammonia limits and created new phosphorus limits. The State of Utah has given us a new permit with lower ammonia limits. Neighboring cities are also receiving new lower limits, however they have mechanical treatment plants that can meet the new limits with minimal upgrades (our lagoon system cannot). The State has also created a new state-wide phosphorus limits for all wastewater treatment plants.

2.  What agencies oversee wastewater issues?

Nationally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for protecting the quality of our water. In Utah, the Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Quality (DWQ) is responsible for wastewater. DWQ gives us permission to discharge treated wastewater, and establishes pollutant limits.

3. Specifically, what limits are changing and how do we currently compare?

The most pressing limits are for ammonia and phosphorus. Ammonia has changed from a daily maximum of 23 mg/L to 5 mg/L, and a new 1.5 mg/L monthly average maximum has been added. This change was required by the EPA. The lagoons currently discharge 15-20 mg/L in the winter, when biological activity is low. Phosphorus has a new limit of 1 mg/L, and the lagoons discharge 3-4 mg/L. Another future change in ammonia criteria from EPA may lower the limit further. DWQ is also considering implementing state-wide nitrogen limits within the next 10 years.

4. Why can’t we continue to use the current lagoons?

Lagoons cannot meet the low ammonia and phosphorus limits. The mechanical treatment system alternatives presented in the planning study can meet these limits.

5. What happens if we do nothing?

We can be fined by the EPA. The Clean Water Act allows for penalties of up to $16,000 per day per violation.

6. What alternatives were explored?

We began the planning work in 2015, and have explored many alternatives including upgrading the existing lagoons, replacing the lagoons with a new mechanical treatment plant, sending our wastewater to neighboring cities for treatment, and forming a new regional treatment system. We also reviewed new emerging technologies, such as treatment systems using algae.

7. Why are the regional alternatives not preferred?

We would need to construct a new pumping and piping system to convey the wastewater to the neighboring treatment plant, then participate in upgrades and operational costs of their treatment plant. This cost is similar to building our own treatment plant, but we lose control over the wastewater effluent and user rates.

8. How will we fund the project? Are we eligible for grant money?

Unfortunately, our city’s average household income is higher than the state average, which means that we are not eligible for grants. The project will be funded through a federal or state government loan. We looked at several funding sources, including private funding (3-4% interest rate), other State sources such as CIB (2.5%), and federal funding such as USDA (3.5%). The Utah Clean Water State Revolving Fund has been identified as the best funding option, with an interest rate of 1.15% and a loan term up to 30 years.

9. Why does the sewer rate increase by such a large amount?

The loan costs are the main driver in the rate increase. We currently do not have any debt for the lagoons. The annual payments for the new treatment plant will be around $900,000. Along with an increase in operating costs, this will more than double our annual wastewater department budget from $800,000 to $1.9 million.

10. Is there a schedule that we are required to meet?

The discharge permit includes a compliance schedule. We must submit construction plans by 2/1/2018, start construction by 2/1/2019, and complete construction by 8/1/2021.

11. Will this improve water quality in Beer Creek and Utah Lake?

The answer is yes and maybe. For Beer Creek, yes, the new treatment system will improve the quality of the water we discharge into Beer Creek. This will improve the water in Beer Creek, at least from our discharge point downstream. It will not have any effect on Salem Pond. For Utah Lake, we don’t know yet how our improved discharge water will affect Utah Lake. Our portion of the water that is put into Utah Lake is small compared to the other larger treatment plants and very small compared to rivers, so our water will not have a great effect. The State is currently studying the water quality of Utah Lake to determine if the lake needs to cleaned up and if so what measures should be taken to clean it up, but it is a long process and results of the study are several years away.

12. Do we have proof that the improvements in the wastewater will actually help Utah Lake?

There are many opinions on this question, and all of them are different. We don’t know what Utah Lake historically looked like, what we want it to look like in the future, and what any improvements will do to the water quality in Utah Lake. That is why the State is currently going through a major study to determine what Utah Lake should be and what measures should be taken to get there. For more information, visit the Utah Lake study webpage at https://deq.utah.gov/locations/U/utahlake/index.htm .

13. Does the new plant have anything to do with the recent election?

No, the project has been in the planning stages for several years now. Key dates leading up to now are listed below.

     2008: State adopts new EPA rule for ammonia

     2012: DWQ informs us of the ammonia change, and that our permit will be changing.

     2012: DWQ proposes state-wide phosphorus limits rule.

     2014: State adopts phosphorus limit rule.

     2014: Competitive selection process for engineers is completed, engineer selected.

     2015: Water Quality Board awards funding for planning study.

     2015: New discharge permit is issued, includes schedule to meet ammonia limits.

     2015: Engineer begins work on master plan.

     2016: WQ Board awards funding for new treatment plant, authorizes design advance.

     2016: Work begins on design of new treatment plant.

     2018: Plans are submitted to DWQ for approval to go to construction.

 

14. How do impact fees affect the payment of the debt service?

Impact fees can be used to make a portion of the debt service payment. However, this would not change the sewer rate that we need. We need to set the sewer rate at a level that allows us to make the debt service payment without any impact fee revenue, in case new development stops and we don’t have any impact fee revenue. The financial plan we have developed will use impact fees and user rates to fund savings accounts to pay for future upgrades and expansions to the plant.

15. Did we take Woodland Hills and Elk Ridge into consideration as partners in our new plant? Will Woodland Hills and Elk Ridge be partners in the plant?

They were considered in the regional system alternatives, but not specifically as special partners in our new plant. Both Woodland Hills and Elk Ridge currently have contracts with Payson for treatment of their wastewater.

16. Will I really be paying $54 per month and how does the water use work into this?

We will be moving to a tiered rate structure. The average user will pay $54 per month. The base rate will be $45 per month, which does not include any usage. Usage will be paid per based on drinking water use (as measured in the winter), with the rate ranging from $1.50 to $2.25 per 1,000 gallons depending on which tier your use is in.

17.  Is the new plant required because we are growing so fast?

No, the new plant is required because the lagoons cannot meet the new ammonia limits. While we are projected to grow in the near future, the new plant would be needed regardless of our growth.

18. Will the huge increase in sewer rates go back down after the plant is paid for?

We are not currently planning to reduce the sewer rate once the treatment plant is paid off. This is because as equipment and facilities reach their useful life, the City is required to rebuild and replace them. The bond for the sewer plant is for 30 years. The useful life expectancy is approximately 35 years. With this in mind it is not likely we could reduce the rate at that time.