Rivers at risk of contamination; backups in homes
Twisp leaders are asking the state for $3.455 million in grants and loans to make urgently needed repairs to the town’s wastewater system.
The pipes and pumps that deliver sewage to the treatment plant are in such disrepair, according to the town’s grant and loan application to the state Department of Ecology, “they are in imminent threat of a catastrophic discharge of raw sewage” into the Twisp or Methow rivers. An inspection of the sewer pipes in 2017 using a remote-control camera found 26% of the lines need to be repaired or replaced.
Problems include “cracked and broken sewer pipes, severe root intrusion, displaced sewer main joints, deteriorated and leaking manholes, collapsed sewers and other defects,” according to the town’s application.
“The conditions outlined have caused and are causing repeated documented raw sewage backups and sewer overflows onto the ground in public areas, and backup of residential sewer services into residential bathtubs, bedrooms, heating ducts, etc.,” town officials added in the application.
Many of the most damaged sewer mains run along the banks of the Methow and Twisp rivers and pose an “immediate” environmental risk, the application states.
The application seeks funding for three of the wastewater system’s most pressing needs: $1.168 million for sewer lines; $686,400 to upgrade the pump system at Lift Station 2, on the south end of Bridge Street; and $1.85 million to improve handling and storage of biosolids at the treatment plant.
The pumps at the lift station, which help transport sewage upslope to the plant, are beyond their useful life and “at risk of failure at any time,” according to the application. The lift station is next to homes and just 250 feet from the Methow River. If it failed, it could flood areas used by the public and the river with raw sewage.
Leaks or backups have not yet affected water quality in the Methow River. Twisp’s wastewater plant has met all requirements in its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the past three years. Among other things, this permit requires that the effluent discharged into the Methow River stays within acceptable limits on certain pollutants.
The Twisp Town Council voted 5-0 on Oct. 8 to submit the grant and loan application to Ecology. The fixes would take place in 2021, according to the timeline given in the application.
Other help possible
Public Works Director Andrew Denham said at the Oct. 8 meeting the town may also get financial help from other sources, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Commerce.
The town’s 2018 application for a Community Development Block Grant from the Department of Commerce to pay for sewer fixes was rejected. Since then, officials have been coming up with ways to reduce the overall cost of the projects in order to make their application more competitive.
Town officials are in the early planning stages for a new treatment plant, but that project is several years off and these fixes are needed now, council member Hans Smith said.
“I don’t think there’s any pork in here,” Smith said. “We need to do this work, and it will buy us some time. … It will benefit us on the cost side when we get to do the new treatment plant later.”
New equipment for treating biosolids can be used in the new plant, Smith said.
Town officials are asking for a portion of the nearly $3.5 million to come as a grant that doesn’t need to be paid back. The relative sizes of the grant and loan will help determine how much impact the project will have on residential and commercial sewer rates. Residential sewer rates have risen 77% since 2010.
“We will do our best to reduce [the cost] for our ratepayers,” Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said at the meeting.