City of New Albin meets wastewater treatment challenges head on with planning

by Anne Falken

The New Albin City Council is working its way through the complicated process of bringing the City’s wastewater treatment system into compliance with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Jeremy Bril of the firm Fehr Graham Engineering and Environmental of West Union has been chosen as New Albin’s project engineer, replacing Davy Engineering of La Crosse, WI.
February 5, Bril and New Albin City Council members George Blair and Josh Dreps, City Engineer Steve Meiners, and Katie Meighan of Midwest Assistance Program met with six Iowa DNR personnel at Des Moines headquarters. The DNR wants to balance existing regulations against New Albin’s desire to bring in new technology, the Algaewheel, a wastewater treatment system developed and patented by the OneWater company of Indianapolis, IN. Algaewheel was recognized this year in Chicago, IL at a highly regarded Technical Exhibition and Conference as one of the ten most innovative in wastewater treatment and water reuse. The meeting agenda included Bril giving his assessment of Algaewheel and the DNR providing design standards and requirements for new technologies.
The current system in place in New Albin, using trickling filter technology, is not meeting EPA compliance standards because of high pH levels. The current finishing stage is a lagoon with algae bloom and ducks and other waterfowl contributing to high pH levels. New Albin has been out of compliance and without a permit for ten years, therefore the city is on the EPA’s priority list to gain this permit by July 2016, which means they will have an approved plan with the DNR and EPA for a new or revised system and a 36-month project completion timeline from the permit approval date.
Davy Engineers managed construction of the original system back in the 1960s, and proposed an oxidation ditch system going forward. Davy did the first steps toward permit approval, including an Anti-degradation Plan, and a Facility Plan, which have been approved. The latter will now need an addendum for the proposed Algaewheel technology. Although the oxidation ditch is a common and proven technology, the New Albin City Council wanted a more innovative design that would give environmental improvement and cost savings.
The Council began investigating Algaewheel, including a trip to Indianapolis to see the Algaewheel in action. Still somewhat new, the company is willing to work with New Albin on cost, to get the Algaewheel operating in more locations. Council members say the credentials of the management team listed on the OneWater Company website seem impressive.
Iowa DNR and the EPA want two years of data collected on Algaewheel to determine its efficiency. New Albin has asked for one year. But if one year is already gone of the 36-month completion deadline, an extension may be needed for the project. Some communities qualify as having “disadvantaged status” and are able to get an extension on this deadline. Council members are looking at that possibility with the Midwest Assistance Program. Another resource for New Albin is the Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, and the USDA will also be a participant in the funding mix.
Although there is still a mountain of work to do, the New Albin City Council is pleased with where the plan sits thus far and with the team they have put together as they move forward on this large project.