Projected Tab for Wastewater Cleanup Set at $305 Million in Missouri

Sewer services in Missouri are bound to become more expensive: A state analysis predicts private and public wastewater-treatment operators could spend $305 million to comply with new requirements to disinfect effluent.

Nov. 10—Sewer services in Missouri are bound to become more expensive: A state analysis predicts private and public wastewater-treatment operators could spend $305 million to comply with new requirements to disinfect effluent.

A proposed change in the state's water-quality standards is aimed at making more streams and lakes suitable for fishing and swimming. People who swim outdoors now often do so at the risk of getting sick from pathogens.

David Shorr, a Jefferson City lawyer and former director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said disinfecting effluent would be a good thing in some cases but costly in others.

"My clients are concerned about the cost," Shorr said. "It will be a public expense passed on through user rates with little or no grant money available."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly criticized Missouri for failing to adopt rules promoting safe bacterial levels in lakes and streams. A 1998 EPA audit found that 75 percent of the state's streams and 11 percent of its lakes lacked certification as swimmable.

Citing a lack of funds, DNR told the federal government it couldn't test all waters. Instead, the state assessed water bodies as clean when it didn't know their true conditions, the federal audit said.

Shorr said it's not that DNR neglected water-quality standards; the agency just took an approach that was different from the EPA's.

The upcoming standards are supposed to better safeguard the public from illness, but DNR has warned that many sewage-treatment operators would be required to embark on costly efforts to monitor for and disinfect bacteria.

Just how costly is the topic of a report posted on DNR's Web site. Recent legislation has required the department to tell the public how much a regulatory change likely would cost. The document is open to public comment until Dec. 16.

The report says 508 private sewer operators and 403 public facilities might be required to install equipment to disinfect effluent. Affected operators could include public agencies such as the Boone County Regional Sewer District, more than 50 private companies and small businesses such as convenience stores and apartment complexes that operate sewage lagoons.

"The bulk of the discussion in Boone County is going to be at the sewer district," said Shorr, a member of the district's board of trustees.

Ted Heisel, director of the St. Louis-based Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said the costs outlined by the report appear too high. He also cited an EPA report that says only a handful of states have not adopted the so-called fishable/swimmable standards for water quality.

"One question is why we are so late in doing this," Heisel said.

Ken Midkiff, conservation chairman of the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club, said DNR also should consider the cost to the public if the regulations are not in place — for instance, in terms of medical costs for people who get sick from swimming in polluted water.

The two main ways to disinfect wastewater are using chlorine and using ultraviolet light. Both methods kill bacteria, but chlorine is known to pose dangers to fish and also might make drinking water unsafe. That's why for large facilities such as mechanical plants that process millions of gallons of wastewater, DNR recommends the UV method.

Smaller facilities, such as lagoon systems, would be allowed to use the less-expensive chlorine method.

The ultraviolet method is appropriate for 314 sewer facilities, according to the DNR report. The necessary UV equipment is likely to cost public facilities an aggregate of $212.8 million. The cost to private sewer operators would be $11.6 million. For chlorination, DNR estimates needed equipment would cost $17.6 million for municipalities and $8.8 million for private facilities.

The new equipment for UV and chlorination methods also would have annual operating and maintenance costs of $41.5 million for public sewers and $12.2 million for private systems.

The DNR report assumes the disinfectant requirement would apply to all wastewater facilities within two miles of water bodies where fishing or swimming occur. The state expects many operators would apply for exemptions by trying to show that streams in their vicinity are not suitable for recreation because of insufficient depth, unsafe features or pollution by waste from wildlife.

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