Weyerhaeuser village officials and representatives celebrated the completion of an improved pond system and implementation of a Water Quality Trading Agreement with a local farm to comply with phosphorus discharge limits on Tuesday, Oct. 22.

The completion of the wastewater improvement project reflects the village’s commitment to preserve and protect the environment for future generations. The village received $1.2 million in USDA Rural Development Water & Environmental Program and Community Development Block Grant funding in 2018 to complete the improvement project. The village previously had received $1.4 million in USDA funding in 2009 for their water improvement project which was completed in 2011.  

Larry Gotham & Robert Parmley of Morgan & Parmley and village engineers designed the system improvements and John Olynick, Inc. completed the work.

The village partnered with local farmers in the same watershed, compensating them for reducing phosphorous runoff. The  partnership  might  be  a  sign of the times for small municipalities like Hawkins, Glen Flora and Conrath,  where  there  are  few  options for  discharging  treated  wastewater in  an  environmentally safe way. These municipalities may not have enough sewer users to finance expensive treatment facility improvements that comply with increasing Wisconsin  Department  of  Natural Resources  phosphorous regulations.

DNR Wastewater Engineer Lonn Franson said conventional treatment plants like the one in Weyerhaeuser are  typically  not  designed  to  re-move phosphorous to the levels the department requires. He compares the village’s proposed new farmer partnership  to  air  emissions  quality programs that reduce pollutants by placing limits on total emissions that can be released during a fixed time period or even traded. The  overall  goal  is  to  reduce phosphorous  in  a  sensitive  water-shed and protect the environment, according to Franson.

“This  relatively  new  option, something that is new nationally for that matter, is the ability to, instead of constructing treatment, offset the phosphorous pollutant load with a water quality trade,” Franson said. “There are a handful that are taking place, and Weyerhaeuser is one of several that are actively investigating the potential right now.”

Franson  called  the  partnership concept an “opportunity” for small communities who don’t need excessive treatment removal, since building plants outright to meet regulations is “incredibly expensive.”

The Weyerhaeuser grant was announced in August 2017 as part of $16.9 million in awards for 38 communities through Community Development  Block  Grant  Public  Facility and Planning Funds. CDBG is federal  funding  used  to  help  towns, villages, and non-urban cities improve  streets,  infrastructure,  and community buildings. These grants are targeted for projects in communities that primarily benefit low-to-moderate income residents.

The  Weyerhaeuser  plant  expansion was done to meet state DNR requirements, mainly by increasing the size of the existing force main to the site, replacing intercell piping and valving control structures, re-placing effluent piping and control structures, rehabilitating two existing stabilization ponds and adding two new stabilization ponds.

Included with the improvements is a creative solution aimed at reducing phosphorous. Farmers in the Soft Maple Creek Watershed who choose to participate will be compensated for cutting back on the amount of manure they spread on fields. In theory, less fertilizing manure will result in lower phosphorous levels, allowing the village to avoid more costly improvements to its wastewater treatment facility.

The fertilizing option is not involved with actual construction, but the process is being implemented at the same time through a process called water quality trading,

The Soft Maple and Hay Creeks Watershed is located in western Rusk County and is 113,122 acres in size. It contains 266 miles of streams and rivers, 1,050  acres of lakes and 14,185 acres of wetlands. The  watershed is dominated by 56 percent forest, 22 percent agriculture and 12 percent wetlands. It is ranked high for non-point source issues affecting streams and groundwater. Water quality degradation by cattle and barnyard runoff is a problem in the watershed. The only point source discharge to surface water in the watershed is from the village of Weyerhaeuser, which discharges to a tributary of Soft Maple Creek.

The village is paying landowners for phosphorous runoff reduction after conversion from conventional tillage to no-till with an estimated payment range from $40 to $80 per acre per year. Seeding the field into a perennial forage crop for the term of the contract is anticipated to result in a payment of $80 to $120 per acre per year. Contracts would be for five years.

Reducing phosphorous discharge into the Soft Maple Creek  Drainage Basin gives the village an equal credit at its treatment facility.

“The village of Weyerhaeuser has an extremely stringent phosphorous limit. The limit is set up specifically to protect the local water quality. Where Weyerhaeuser is at a disadvantage is they discharge to a very small stream that has very limited capacity to accept even a small amount of phosphorous,” Franson said.

About 20 years ago the DNR declared the Soft Maple Creek Drainage Area a priority watershed. At that time there was cooperative work with the county to improve agricultural practices in the area. Some of these practices already have been implemented so there are not as many farmers left now to work with.

The village only needs a few, according to Franson. “There has been a lot of really good work by the local agricultural community in that area already to provide a relatively clean resource,” he said.

“The water quality of Soft Maple Creek where they are discharging to  is not phosphorous impaired and is not phosphorous polluted, but part of the rules and regulations is to make sure it doesn’t become that way, and that is why we are regulating the discharge in this way and manner,” Franson said,

The previous Weyerhaeuser wastewater treatment facility was a stabilization pond system with surface water discharge. It was built in the early 1970s and was near the end of its life expectancy. As redesigned, the new facility will meet increased storage capacity as required by the DNR with a design life of about 40 years, paid off in 20 years. It will be financed through increased user charges, up to 2 percent of the median household income.

After a site tour, Wisconsin Assembly Rep. James Edming noted that the improvements are impressive.

Village officials and trustees commended Gotham for doing a great job explaining the project and system to the village and residents as well as providing tremendous assistance with presenting funding source options. Officials stated they very much appreciate Morgan & Parmley’s service to the community.

Past Village Clerk/Treasurer, Kathleen Stewart, who did not attend the event, was noted as a key asset to the village in getting both the water and wastewater application processes completed.

“This is a great project. The village is set for years for the next generation,” Weyerhaeuser Past Village President Erv Murray stated. “We couldn’t have done it without the help of USDA and CDBG. Now we have good water and good sewer.”

Murrary also said, “If we didn’t have Kathleen, this project would not have been done.”  

Current Clerk/Treasurer Kris Snyder who took over on the project after Stewart’s retirement added, “Working with USDA, Cooper Engineering and CDBG has been a very positive experience and the organization staffs are easy to work with.”  

USDA recognized Wes Hoem of the Great Lakes Community Action Program for his “tremendous” assistance to the Village of Weyerhaeuser with USDA’s electronic application system, RD Apply.  

Village President Tom Bush noted the village is now equipped for community and business sustainability.

Village Operator Paul Dachel, summed up the event stating, “Glad the project is done.”

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