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Sewer bonds to ease wastewater squeeze

Needing to replace old sewer mains and expand the capacity of Columbia’s wastewater treatment plant, the city is preparing to ask residents in an April election to put their money down the drain.

The Columbia City Council listened during a work session Monday to suggestions on improving the city sewer system and wastewater treatment facility.

City officials estimate the improvements will cost $77 million. The city council plans to ask residents to finance improvements by approving a bond issue. If the council approves, city residents will vote on the bond proposal in April. The proposed ballot issue is on the council’s Dec. 17 agenda.

The ballot proposal would include $67 million for the wastewater treatment plant and $10 million for maintenance and extension of the sewer system.

Without the bonds, consultant Black & Veatch projected sewer rates would increase on average to $49.67 per month in 2010 from the current household average of $16.06.

Larry Chapple, senior engineer manager for consultant Black & Veatch, outlined a list of improvements the wastewater treatment facility needs to meet future demand, increase the facility’s reliability and comply with future environmental regulations.

Chapple said the top priority is for Columbia to continue using wetlands at the Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area for part of its wastewater treatment. The city now cleans wastewater in a mechanical plant and sends the remaining effluent to Eagle Bluffs, where wetlands help disinfect waste and remove harmful materials.

Columbia Public Works Director John Glascock said using Eagle Bluffs is "the right thing to do" because it helps sustain the wetlands and cleans sewage without chemicals or additional energy. Several council members agreed.

Because the wetlands treatment doesn’t remove nutrients from waste, the city will need to add two treatment units to the existing system, including one that will remove ammonia.

Chapple said the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is looking closely at regulating ammonia and phosphorus discharge in wastewater and that those regulations will have a significant impact on the capacity of the city’s 25-year-old system.

"If we are going to continue using Eagle Bluffs, we think the DNR is going to require more ammonia removal," Chapple said. "This would outdate the old equipment the city currently has."

The $67 million component in the bond proposal would finance new grit-removal technology to make the new system last longer, rehabilitate the current system to make it more efficient and eliminate a sludge lagoon to help reduce odor and the need for the city to haul waste from the plant.

Columbia Environmental Services Manager Steve Hunt said the bond issue would help replace private sewers in the city with public ones, repair manholes so storm water doesn’t seep into the sewer system and extend main sewer lines to help ease areas where sewers are overburdened.

Reach Kat Hughes at (573) 815-1713 or




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