By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Tucumcari’s wastewater treatment plant may be facing new requirements for expansion, even after the city spent $1 million in American Recovery Act funds a few years ago to increase the plant’s capacity.
There are new water quality regulations coming in 2018 that may require the city to reuse all of the treated wastewater the plant produces and require cleaner water to emerge from the process, according to Doug Powers, city manager.
The city’s water discharge permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expired on Jan. 31 of last year, according to Jim Winchester, spokesperson for the state environment department, and until it is re-issued, the city continues to work under terms of the existing agreement.
Terms of the new discharge permit, he said, are being worked out between the city; its consultant, HDR Engineering of Albuquerque; the state Surface Water Quality Control Bureau; the federal EPA; and the state environment department.
Questions under discussion include whether the wastewater treatment plant’s current storage pond would qualify as “waters of the U.S.” under the changing definition of that term as new regulations are considered, Winchester said, and whether the new permit will include restrictions on “nutrient” effluent from the Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory.
“These are questions we haven’t had to deal with for 20 years,” Powers said, but reflect changes in regulation that have occurred since the city’s current discharge permit took effect.
The storage pond, called Breen’s Pond in the current permit, is not considered “waters of the U.S.” under current definitions, Powers said, but the EPA is developing a definition that would be much broader and could include the city’s storage pond.
In addition, Powers said, regulations that take effect in 2018 may require the city to re-use all the water that is processed in the plant. Some of that processed water travels via pipeline to the New Mexico State University Agricultural Experimentation Station, where it is being used to water feed crops on an experimental basis.
If all of the processed water must be re-used, however, Powers said, the treatment plant may have to expand again to accommodate facilities, such as new tanks, to allow the water to be stored until it can be reused.
Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory owner Chuck Krause and Powers have been discussing contaminants in water that the factory discharges to the wastewater plant for a few months now, both said.
“They used to say that the pH level of my discharge was too high, which would be caustic,” Krause said, “now they say it’s too low, or acid.”
Krause said phosphoric acid used to clean cheese-making equipment is the main contaminant in the plant’s discharge, and he is discussing solutions that would include a tank to allow a continuous, low-level flow from the cheese factory, and a pH meter that would measure the acidity of the plant’s discharge.
Krause acknowledged that production at the cheese factory has increased significantly as orders for the product have increased, and said he is considering an expansion when he can be assured that the plant’s increased business will be permanent.
Powers said the cheese factory is a major provider of well-paid jobs in the city, and said expansion that could add 10 to 12 new jobs.
In the meantime, Krause said, the cheese factory is the largest contributor of water to the treatment plant and the city depends on that volume to keep the treatment plant operating.
“I provide the biggest volume,” he said, “and I pay the biggest bills.”