What happens when you flush your toilet or let water run down the sink? Many of us don’t know, and perhaps most do not care, as long as it is gone, but management of sanitary sewer systems is one of the most critical functions in keeping residents healthy. In our area, that task is managed by the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission (“MWMC”). MWMC is the governing body for the Eugene/Springfield regional sewer treatment system and is, perhaps remarkably, a government agency with no employees that exists through the cooperation of the cities of Springfield and Eugene and Lane County.
On January 5 City Club members and guests learned how this agency manages to address the critical problem of wastewater management for the 250 thousand residents of the urban area. Our presenters were Matt Stouder, the Environmental Services Division Director in the Development and Public Works department of the City of Springfield, and Michelle Miranda, the Wastewater Division Manager in the Public Works Department of the City of Eugene. Mr. Stouder also serves as the General Manager of MWMC, and Ms. Miranda also serves as the Operations Manger of the MWMC Regional Water Pollution Contorl Facility – the wastewater treatment plan that serves residents and business in the cities and urban growth areas surrounding Eugene and Springfield.
Mr. Stouder explain that the regional system has its origins in the federal Clean Water Act passed in 1972. At that time, both the cities of Springfield and of Eugene had local sewer treatment facilities that were in need of major repairs and updating. One of the features of the Clean Water Act was that federal funds were available for sewer treatment systems, but only if they served a region not a single city. That incentive motivated the cities, with the support of the County, who was able to provide additional financial security, to form the MWMC in 1974 and secure funding for a regional plant (80 percent of the plant cost was cove red by federal funds). That plant opened in 1984 and has served the area ever since.
Now, wastewater from each city is carried to the plant, first through local sewer lines and then a series of regional sewer lines and pump stations. It is treated at the plant and the cleaned water is returned to the Willamette River, while the solids removed from the waste stream are treated at a drying facility located several miles north of the plant and then used to provide nutrients for corps like grass seed, or, more recently a plantation of over 400 acres of poplar trees which are harvested every 12 years to provide lumber and wood chips.
According to Ms. Miranda, MWMC operates and manages over $450 million in assets including, in addition to the treatment plant, 850 miles of regional sewer pipe and 49 pump stations. (In addition, each City also operates and maintains local sewer pipes and pump stations. The dividing line between local and regional facilities is that once a pipe handles wastewater from more than on jurisdiction, it is treated as a regional facility.
The Treatment plan received a new federal permit from DEQ in November. One of the features of the new permit is a new level of temperature regulation, since temperature is treated at a pollutant for purposes of measuring the pollution returned to the river at the end of the treatment process. To insure that the facility complies with the new permit, MWMC is now working with organizations Like Fresh Water Trust to plant trees along the Springfield Millrace and along the banks of the McKenzie River, from which both the Eugene Water and electric Board and the Springfield Utility Board draw water for their residents.
Other resource recovery projects are high on MWMC’s lists of current tasks. Not only do they use recycled water in the treatment process and to irrigate the poplar plantation, as well as use waste solids for the poplar farm and grass seed farms in the area, but they are also addressing the need to deal with the quantity of methane that isa natural byproduct of the treatment process. For some time, the plant has generated some of its own electrical needs by using the methane, but now they have recently partnered with NW Natural to clean methane and inject it into the NW Natural system to be available to consumers and businesses who use natural gas. Mr. Stouder said this $14 million project could generate as much as $1-2 million in annual revenue, which will provide a buffer against future rate increase once the cost of the project is recovered. He said that he did not expect the recent actions of the City of Eugene which may prohibit new natural gas connections to have a major impact on that cost recovery, since the gas in the NW Natural system could still be used in other places.
Other issues on the horizon include the possibility of additional users of the regional facility. Lane County has been studying the expansion of the Goshen area, south of Eugene, for additional industrial development. T
hat area has no sewer system and one of the possibilities is to convey the area’s wastewater to MWMC. That may raise interesting questions about whether or not to treat the area as simply a customer or to expect that Goshen will become a partner in the regional system. Mr. Stouder said that capacity would not be an issue for MWMC because the typical flow to the f=alant is about 30 million gallons per day, while the system is sized to handle 277 million. When asked about the large difference, he responded that during the winter months, because of seasonal rain, the area’s water table rises, in many cases, to ab
ove the level of the pipes. This means that ground water can flow into the sewer system and be carried to the plant through leaks and cracks made by tree roots and other defects. All of this inflow must be treated as if it is the same as residential or industrial sewage.
Mr. Stouder added that in addition to Goshen, Lane Community College which presently has its own plan, as well as Cresswell may be explore using MWMC facilities in the future.
m operated by MWMC which may well be unfamiliar is its commercial and industrial pretreatment program. MWMC works with local businesses, particularly those who use pollutants in their production activities, to eliminate many of those pollutants before wastewater enters the system. A comm on subject is the fat, oil and grease filter that typically are installed in all food production faculties to keep that mat
erial out of the sewer system where it can clog pipes and cause problems in treatment of wastewater at the plant.