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New Albin wastewater treatment plant progress awaiting Algaewheel data; NAIL looking to become catalyst for this and future projects

by Anne Falken

A year has come and gone since the last report on the New Albin wastewater treatment plant proposal, but the New Albin City Council has been working diligently with Fehr Graham Engineers out of West Union and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to gain a Letter of Consent, which would set out a timeline toward the permit needed to implement a new wastewater treatment system within the community of New Albin.

The City of New Albin wants to incorporate the Algaewheel system, an innovative wastewater treatment system invented at the OneWater Company out of Indianapolis, IN. The present New Albin treatment plant was built in the late 1960s and is currently not compliant with regulations.

The Algaewheel has been determined to be able to match the needs for New Albin. It is a system meant for small-scale treatment systems and has a lower build and operating cost. It’s an independent, self-regulating ecosystem with above-ground wheels inside a greenhouse-like structure that takes advantage of the symbiotic relationship between algae and bacteria. It also uses daylight for power and involves water reuse. Algaewheel is marketed as an effective decentralized model that addresses water pollution and water security, and it can be built on top of the existing system currently being utilized in New Albin.

However, it has also been discovered that innovative systems like the Algaewheel present a challenge for the DNR. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented new limits on phosphorus and ammonia within community water systems, and the DNR must walk the line between implementing these requirements while trying not to dissuade new technology.

Basically, the DNR needs data showing that the Algaewheel can achieve the new limits proposed by the EPA. That data is being gathered on the Algaewheel at the One Water Company in Indianapolis. At the end of February, one year of data will be available. The DNR is specifically interested in data on the system’s ability to handle ammonia during the colder winter months.

New Albin would not be the first to implement the Algaewheel. There are at least ten such systems across the U.S., although it has just in the last year or so become part of a national representative distribution system. For the Upper Midwest area, including North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa, Algaewheel is carried by a company called Vessco, which is headquartered in Chanhassen, MN. The New Albin City Council is already working with the representative there and, of course, with OneWater out of Indianapolis.

Funding the new system is another difficult issue for the City. New Albin has already been designated as a community having “disadvantaged status,” meaning the income level in this small town falls below a certain guideline for city development purposes. This translates to allowing more time to get the wastewater treatment system installed. The timing begins after receiving the permit, and no permit has been granted yet since it's dependent upon the data currently being generated. It’s not expected the City will hear back from the DNR on the data before early summer 2017.

New Albin Improvement League (NAIL) is broadening its shoulders and working with the City and Midwest Assistance Program to gain 501c3 non-profit status. NAIL’s mission is generally any improvement for the City. The organization consists of about 15 members and continues the work of the former New Albin Betterment Committee.

NAIL’s current project of a splash pad for the kids requires significant funds as well. Since there is a myriad of funding sources and grants available, it behooves New Albin to have a nonprofit organization available to apply for such funds. Based on the fact that many granting organizations only give to 501c3 non-profit entities, NAIL is perfectly positioned to take on that nonprofit status. It is believed that the organization can then be the lightning rod for all New Albin projects, including the wastewater treatment plant.

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