REMOVE SLUDGE-City of Peshtigo Water Department and Public Works employees were busy removing sludge from the city's waste water treatment plant off Harbor Road Tuesday Oct. 17. The sludge remains at the bottom of the ponds after the waste is removed and has to be suctioned out. A truck from The Synagro company was rented for the week to assist with the removal. The sludge removal process takes place approximately every six months so each of the two ponds has sludge removed over a two-year period. City Engineer George Cowell is in charge of the removal. Top photo shows the pond that the sludge is removed from, note the white aerator piping along the sides. They lay on the bottom of the pond after all sludge is removed. Bottom photo: Chris Erickson and Scott Walters dig up the sludge before it is removed.
Peshtigo Water Utility Gets Good DNR Report
George Cowell, director of Public Works for the City of Peshtigo, reported proudly to the Water and Sewer Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 18 that for the first time in at least six years the DNR's Sanitary Survey Report of the city's waterworks came back with no deficiencies identified, significant or otherwise.
Significant deficiencies pose immediate health threats to consumers and/or are violations of the Wisconsin Administrative Code.
Ordinary deficiencies are problems with drinking water systems that have the potential to cause serious health risks or represent long-term health risks to consumers. They may indicate noncompliance with one or more administrative code provisions and require that corrective action be completed as soon as possible.
The intensive surveys are done every three years by the DNR, and the most recent inspection of the city's waterworks was done on Tuesday, Sept. 20 by Wendy Anderson, Public Drinking Water Engineer with the DNR, accompanied by Cowell, utility operators Jeffrey Thompson and Mark Madden, and Kyle Burton from the DNR.
The last two survey reports identified several deficiencies, including some that fell into the "significant deficiency" category. Cowell and his crew have been busy correcting them. Their efforts have been successful.
"Since the last sanitary survey, Peshtigo waterworks staff have made significant improvements to the system operation, maintenance and record keeping practices," Anderson wrote. "These efforts are appreciated and commendable."
The report also commended the city for using the Public Service Commission's option for simplified rate case price increases. She noted the city's last rate increase was in September of 2012, when the rate was increased by 22 percent, followed by a simplified rate increase in September of 2015.
"Continued use of these incremental rate increases will help the city keep pace with depreciating facilities and equipment and rising operation costs," she said.
"The sanitary survey serves as an evaluation of the capabilities of your water system," the report stated. "At the time of the last inspection, the system was determined to have inadequate capacity because of the number and types of deficiencies identified. In the time since the last inspection, tremendous improvements have been made. This system has now been determined to have adequate technical, managerial and financial capacity to provide safe drinking water."
The report said the city has an excellent record of compliance with monitoring and reporting requirements, and operations and maintenance programs are good.
Cowell said the reports done three and six years ago had significant deficiencies listed, and repeated that this time there were none.
"We're finally getting it!" he declared. "If you're thinking of taking people off the water utility, don't do it!" He said they need all the help they have, and repeated, "We've been very successful with what we're doing. It's worked well and I'm reluctant to change anything!"
While there were no deficiencies, Anderson's report had seven recommendations for improvements. Cowell reported those to the committee at its meeting on Tuesday.
He said the DNR was not entirely happy with how the numbers were kept for the city's CMAR report, but the city auditors were happy with it so there is no cause for immediate remedial action.
The DNR recommended that the utility's existing chlorine scales that measure in pounds be replaced with ones that will measure in tenths of a pound. Cowell said because of low water flow, inability to measure fractions of a pound skew the results. He said the recommended replacement scales will cost about $2,400 each, and the utility uses three of them at three locations. He suggested changing one a year for the next three years.
Cowell noted the report suggests additional money for training of all waterworks operators, but he disagreed. He said they are providing plenty of training, mostly through Rural Water, and even keep auxiliary personnel trained. He attends regular classes on water plant operation although he physically does not do the work, and the credits earned apply toward keeping his license up to date.
The DNR also suggested putting a master meter in mobile home parks, which would include Maplewood Subdivision. They would save staff time by billing the owner of the property rather than doing individual bills, and the owner could bill tenants. If leaks are detected within the mobile home parks, correcting them is up to the owner and not other users of the utility.
Cowell noted the utility has been flushing and keeping the mains clean in the mobile home parks, but they should not, because that too is a responsibility of the owner.
Recommendations included routine maintenance of all chemical injectors, routine air filter maintenance and each of the air compressors, and suggestions for monitoring of iron, manganese and radionuclide based on historic levels.
Also mentioned were some non-conforming features that existed before a code change became effective, correction is not required unless a health risk is identified, but whenever modifications are made they should be done. This includes an automatic chlorine cylinder shutdown valve, and properly sealing a previously acceptable gap at the top of the water towers.
The utility could use public education efforts in regard to notifying property owners about cross connection problems in kitchens and bathrooms, and if they do not do this, when cross connection inspections are done every kitchen and every bathroom in the building will need to be inspected.
"This is the DNR...If we want to sell water we have to comply," commented committee member Fred Meintz.
The water towers were painted nearly six years ago, and need to be inspected. Cowell will get prices.
Another recommendation was for a zoning overlay to protect groundwater "within the circumference of protection" around the wells. Without the zoning the Building Inspector would have no way of knowing about it.
Cowell added that all the city's inspections and reports are available on the DNR's website for anyone to look at.
Concluding discussion of the report, Cowell commented,"We're in good standing with this report. It took a concerted effort. It takes operators. It takes trained people in the water department. If City Council tries to reduce that I think this board needs to express its concerns!"
The Water and Sewer Board consists of Alderman Tom Gryzwa and citizen members Fred Meintz and Dan Seymour. Billing for the department is done by Deputy City Clerk/Treasurer Anita Morois at the Municipal Building.
At its September meeting City Council, on recommendation of the Personnel Committee, declined to allow Cowell to hire a replacement for a person who was retiring from the Public Works Department and there were suggestions that personnel from water and sewer could help. He had explained that utility employees cannot do work for the public works department unless the utility is compensated for their time.
At the start of the meeting the committee agreed to do what it takes to resolve a sewer backup problem brought to them by Michael and Michelle Winkler, who have lived for a approximately a year in their home near the city's ball park.
Winkler described a basement that a few weeks ago was filled with three to four inches of raw sewage, "the most raw, nasty stuff you can imagine!" He said with a house full of kids, they didn't want to worry in future about any of them "crawling around in that nasty stuff."
He said they had many things stored in boxes in the basement that had to be thrown out, carpet down there had to be torn out and tossed, and for days until they got it cleaned up and aired out they had to put up with the stench and the flies.
However, they were not seeking any compensation for damages. They just wanted a solution, assurance that the problem will not happen again.
Winkler sad there was a less serious backup a few weeks before the really bad one. The problems came during a time of heavy use of the ball field - a youth baseball tournament and an end of the season party for all the teams. When the city cleaned out the blocked line a few months ago they found strange things, including a baseball, chunks of pottery, things that kids might have thrown down a cleanout pipe area near the restrooms. In the park is a cleanout with just a light plastic cover, and he believes kids just move it and throw things in, things that eventually cause a blockage.
Many years ago, perhaps 50, there apparently was a verbal agreement with the person who owned the property. The sewer lateral runs into the Winker yard, goes under their garage and driveway, and makes a "Y" to the ball park.
Everyone agreed that preventing a backup from happening again is the responsibility of the utility or the city. Cowell could find two possible solutions.
The least expensive would be to run a city-owned lateral along the north side of the Winkler property to the ball park line connection, and cap off the connection that allows the backup into the home. Cowell said maintenance and installation of that line would be a responsibility of the Parks and Recreation Department. Winkler has agreed to give the city an easement to put the line there.
"We don't want to fight. We don't want to argue. We just want to prevent further damage to our basement," Winkler declared.
The other, more costly, would be to run a new sewer main down the alley to connect to the ball park lateral. That would cost more, since it needs to be an 8-inch sewer line with two manholes. The sewer utility could pay for that, but there are no property owners to be assessed, since all the homes in that area already have sewer lines.
There is also the possibility the restrooms at the ball park could be rebuilt, in a slightly different spot. That will need to be checked before a decision is made.
"We have to take care of these people, absolutely!" Meintz declared. Gryzwa and Seymour heartily agreed. They decided the work must be finished before ball season starts again in spring. Cowell is to get price estimates for the two options and report back at the next meeting.
Mayor Cathi Malke recalled two years ago there were problems with blockages in that line and there was discussion on the possible need to use porta potties there until the problems were fixed.
Meintz thanked the Winklers for their cooperation on the issue, and Gryzwa assured them the problem will be fixed by spring. Morois suggested also giving them credit on their water bill for the water they used cleaning up the mess, an idea the committee readily accepted.
They will also have Cowell look at the possibility of having the cover over the cleanout in the ball park converted to a heavy one, or better still a locking screw-on type.
The city owes the water utility for a back bill. The meter reads in cubic feet rather than gallons, so it reported considerably lower numbers. They believe other meters may have the same discrepancy, which needs to be identified.
A request from Jeff Cate that his $40 late fee be refunded was rejected. Malke said she had assisted him at the counter when he came to pay his past due bill and according to the date shown on the bill he still had another week to pay. Morois said that was actually his second late notice, and the date Malke saw is the date the next bill would be due.
Morois agreed it could be confusing, "but that's what our system does." She said they subsequently have been blacking out that date when past due reminders are sent. However, she said, it has been done that way since she started working for the city, and this is the first time this has happened.
Board members noted they are not required to send out the late notice reminders, nor are they required to "placard" homes 24 hours before water will be shut off, but they do. That is after the first disconnect letter is sent.
Motion to deny the refund request was unanimously approved.
Cowell reminded the board that his department will be short of help for at least the next two months, with two full time people fewer than they had and people on vacation, so they will not be doing any more meter replacements until at least January.
He invited everyone to watch the cleanout operations in progress at the aerator basins, where personnel using a rented vacuum truck are sucking out the six to eight inches of grit that has accumulated there. "You can see what we're dealing with there. It is significant,"he declared.
The last cleanout was just 18 months ago.
Meintz commented the original plans for rebuilding the wastewater treatment plant included grit removal equipment, but that was taken out of the budget, "and now we're paying for it."
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