Who will foot the bill for changes to wastewater treatment facilities to lessen the amount of phosphorus going into Chautauqua Lake?
The answer: Sewer district customers, unless federal or state funding can be obtained.
Funding help is one reason why county officials are writing letters to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Once the DEC and the federal Environmental Protection Agency approve a report on the total maximum daily load for phosphorus for Chautauqua Lake, changes will be made at wastewater treatment facilities.
Bill Boria, county Health Department water resource specialist, said the cost to upgrade will be different at each facility. The facilities facing the more stringent requirements includes the Chautauqua Heights Sewer District (once known as Chautauqua Lake Estates), North Chautauqua Lake Sewer District, Chautauqua Utility District and the South & Center Chautauqua Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant.
"The bigger the customer base, the lower the increase will generally be," he said. "Chautauqua Lake Estates sewer district, they have a relatively small number of customers, so the amount of the increase per customer will be higher for them."
The North Chautauqua Lake Sewer District serves Mayville and the town of Chautauqua; the Chautauqua Utility District handles the Chautauqua Institution; and the Chautauqua Heights Sewer District serves the town of Chautauqua. They all cover the north basin of the lake. The South & Center Chautauqua Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant covers the south basin of the lake. The South and Center won't face the same new phosphorus loading criteria because it discharges into the Chadakoin River.
Facilties Facing Stringent Requirements:
- Chautauqua Heights Sewer District (once known as Chautauqua Lake Estates)
- North Chautauqua Lake Sewer District
- Chautauqua Utility District and the South & Center Chautauqua Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant
"They do have lower limits they have to achieve, but they are not under the same schedule as the other sewer districts," Boria said. "The DEC is telling us they are working on a TMDL for the Chadakoin River, but that will just involve the South and Center District when it gets finalized."
Boria said he doesn't know the exact costs for each facility, but it will be in the millions for most. That is why county officials hope to receive grants for the upgrades.
"Finalizing the TMDL should help in obtaining funding. It is a mandate that the plants upgrade. Facing the TMDL limits, solving a problem, should give us more points in the grant process," he said. "However, funding is still going to be hard to get. The days of 85 percent federal cost sharing are over, at this point. That is how most of the sewer districts were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s."
One plan to lower the costs for each customer is to extend the sewer districts. Tom Carlson, North Chautauqua Lake Sewer District director and town of Chautauqua councilman, said the engineering company, URS Corporation of Buffalo, looked at several scenarios for the town and its sewer districts. The scenarios ranged from just upgrading the facilities to extending the North Chautauqua Lake Sewer District to add an additional 600 customers. The plan to extend the north sewer district would include eliminating the Chautauqua Heights Sewer District. The plan would also be an additional annual cost of $1,500 to $2,000 per user for many, many years.
"The cost ranges from $800,000 to $16 million for these various scenarios," Carlson said. "The $800,000 cost would be just to upgrade Chautauqua Heights and the $16 million would be for the whole package to extend the sewer district to add 600 additional users. I don't think this project will ever happen because the money will never be there."
Carlson said town of Chautauqua officials will do what it is required to meet new phosphorus levels. There are two phases in the plan to lower phosphorus. The first is a chemical additive to reduce phosphorus levels to 1 part per million. The second phase, which facilities officials will have five years to meet, will be lowering phosphorus levels to .2 parts per million. However, Carlson believes more analysis needs to be done before any upgrades.
"I certainly don't have a problem in doing what we can for the lake," he said. "We can do the first step. The second step, I think we need to look more into all the sewer districts going into the lake first."
Carlson said once the changes are made to wastewater treatment plants to lower phosphorus, the weeds and algae won't just magically go away.
"I hope people don't think once we do this it will clear up the lake. There are other sources adding to the problem," he said.