COLUMBUS — City officials are hoping to take advantage of a construction company’s lengthy stay in Columbus to save money on the final phase of the wastewater treatment plant improvements.
The Public Property, Safety and Works Committee on Monday recommended moving forward with an agreement with Omaha-based HDR Inc. to design the fourth phase of the multiyear, multimillion-dollar project with a goal of bidding the construction work before the contractor currently on-site leaves town.
The project that started in 2013 is needed to ensure the wastewater treatment plant can handle future residential and industrial growth, replace aging equipment and shift the entire facility to the protected side of the Loup River levee.
“We are making sure that we’re planning ahead,” City Engineer Rick Bogus said during Monday’s meeting.
Eriksen Construction Inc. is currently working on the project’s third phase, which adds a new headworks and two primary clarifiers on the north side of the levee, upgrades technology to make the plant more efficient and gives septic haulers and vacuum trucks a designated place to discharge. That work is scheduled to be finished in June 2018.
Bogus said the city saved about $1 million on the $11.25 million third phase by hiring Eriksen Construction for the work since the Blair company was already in town while working on the project’s second phase.
He’s hoping to find the same savings for phase four, which has an estimated cost of $13 million.
That work will relocate the sludge tanks, pump and storage buildings and other equipment to the protected side of the levee, raze the existing headworks, which is part of the original facility built in the 1960s, and create a system that pumps the treated wastewater to Quail Run Golf Course.
Wastewater treated at the South 14th Avenue plant is currently discharged into the Loup River, but Public Property Director Doug Moore sees several reasons to begin using it to irrigate the nearby golf course.
The golf course currently uses an irrigation pond that rises and falls along with the groundwater level. Moore said there also constant issues with the pump system and pipes, which get clogged by dead fish and frogs and other debris in the pond.
The public property director said golf course staff spend “endless hours” working on the irrigation system.
“We have a full-time guy and that’s all he does is clean sprinkler heads,” Moore said.
The effluent water pumped from the treatment plant would be free of debris and can easily meet the golf course’s needs.
The plant treats about 3.5 million gallons per day, with that number expected to increase to 5 million gallons in the future, and Quail Run used a total of 74 million gallons of water to irrigate last year.
“It’s a better use of the water instead of just pumping it down the river,” said Moore.
Public Works Department employees started a pilot project in June 2014 using the graywater from sinks, showers and toilets to water the grass at the treatment plant.
Expanding the project to Quail Run means less water from the city wells — a precious commodity during drought years — will go to irrigation during the hot summer months.
“I just think it’s a win-win for everybody,” said Moore.
And there’s no need for local golfers to worry about health concerns.
Moore said the effluent water is “totally safe” after going through the treatment process. The city already applies Milorganite — a fertilizer comprised of microbes that have digested the organic matter in wastewater — to the golf course greens.
“It’s no different,” Moore said of the graywater. “It’s harmless. And we put it down the river.”
The city would need state approval before the irrigation system can be installed.
Bogus expects phase four of the wastewater treatment plant project to be bid in the spring of 2018, before Eriksen Construction wraps up the current work. Columbus City Council will vote next week on whether to proceed with the design agreement with HDR Inc.
The entire project is being financed by bonds repaid with revenue from user fees.
In 2013, the city council approved a five-year fee schedule that raised sewer rates to cover the debt, but there’s concern that further increases are needed to pay for the project.
Bogus said double-digit sewer rate increases may be needed for a few years to pay for the plant expansion and other projects. An updated wastewater rate study covering the next five years is being completed to determine the exact impact.
“I don’t like the sound of a double-digit increase,” committee member Charlie Bahr said.
But he added that they can’t stop in the middle of the project.
“We’re committed this far,” he said. “We need to finish the rest of it.”