Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 16, 2018

Fairfield cleaning up sewer overflows, adding capacity

By Jon Gilrain, Ledger Correspondent | Jul 23, 2018
Photo by: JON GILRAIN/Ledger photo A wastewater intake tank where micro-organisms begin breaking down the city’s wastewater.

Fairfield’s wastewater treatment system has undergone major changes in recent years.

Ongoing improvements to the wastewater treatment facility and sewer line system are addressing a long-standing order from the state to reduce sanitary sewer overflows. The improvements will also see a better quality of water flowing back into Crow Creek and a significant increase in the capacity of the system.

Fairfield’s sewer plant receives wastewater from homes and businesses via sinks, toilets and sometimes industrial applications. The existing plant was constructed in the 1960s, and before that a facility existed in the large open space near the Lamson Woods parking lot from about the 1920s.

The current system’s age and capacity limits have caused sewer overflows around the city. That means untreated wastewater is flowing into streams, though it is heavily diluted by rainwater. Less than a decade ago, the state of Iowa ordered the city to eliminate this problem.

“There are multiple steps going on. One of the things we’re focused on right now is a total facility rebuild,” said wastewater treatment facility superintendent Shawn Worley. “Along with that, we’ll be adding a lot of capacity. We’ll be able to treat 9 million gallons of wastewater on a daily basis and up to 45 million with a rain event.”

Fairfield’s wastewater treatment facility is a sprawling complex southeast of town set on about 40 acres. The existing facility’s infrastructure operates with a staff of seven full-time employees while the new features are being constructed in adjacent spaces by contracted construction businesses.

The system relies on micro-organisms digesting and breaking down wastewater. Intake tanks, digesters, sludge storage tanks, lagoons, pumps and a myriad of other functional units necessary to the treatment process are being replaced with newer and more efficient infrastructure which will include ultraviolet disinfection.

The new system and its greater capacity are expected to completely eliminate the sewer overflows and return a higher quality of water to the environment through Crow Creek.

“The project is being paid for with a 40-year loan from the United States Department of Agriculture that serves towns less than 10,000,” said Fairfield City Engineer Melanie Carlson. “At the time that we were looking at the planning and the funding packages for this, USDA had a lower interest rate than the state programs.”

The project will be paid for through small incremental sewer bill increases over the next five years that have already been approved by the city council.

“The big steps are already baked in,” said city administrator Aaron Kooiker. “There were be minor changes in the sewer bill the next couple of years.”

In February 2017, the council approved a pair of ordinances to increase water and sewer rates. Water rates were to rise 3 percent each year for five years, while sewer rates were to rise 5 percent that year and this year, then 1.75 percent per year after that to pay off the loan and other routine maintenance.

At no point does the facility’s sewer treatment system have any connection to Fairfield’s drinking water supply, which relies on wells directly tapped into the Jordan Aquifer, a large underground body of water in the region.

An increase in the system’s capacity is a big plus in terms of attracting larger industrial employers to Fairfield.

“There’s an economic development benefit to it, because if we were to get a large sewer user such as a cheese plant or packing plant where they put a lot of things into the sewer, we now have more capacity to handle that rather than shipping them on down the road to another town,” said Worley.

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