GREENFIELD — A few years ago, new regulations were rolled out by the Department of Natural resources, and in order to meet those regulations, Greenfield built a new wastewater treatment plant, which opened in November 2019.
The plant is state-of-the-art according to many people familiar with the industry. At the controls of the plant is Brad Mueller, who has served as the city’s wastewater treatment plant operator for 21 years.
“It’s amazingly efficient,” Mueller said of the new plant.
Mueller said there aren’t many who choose to go into his field of work, so in order to plan ahead, ensuring the city will be in a good position to fund the hiring of a new operator before it comes time for him to retire someday means the city council is considering setting new sewer rates. City Clerk Becky Haase also pointed out this week that with the new plant has come increased operating costs.
A public hearing has been set for March 1 to discuss the matter and lay out the proposal, which Haase said would come out to an average of $12 per month increase for customers. That figure was arrived on with counsel from the city’s financial advisors.
Mueller said that it’s because of how hard it is for an individual to become certified to run a Grade 3 plant like Greenfield’s that the city has to start looking at this process now. Wastewater treatment plants progress in complexity from Grade 1 and up. An alternative is for cities to hire someone from another city to come test their water, however officials say that isn’t usually cost effective. Brian Hoadley is Grade 1 certified, Mueller said, and assists him in his work frequently at the plant.
As part of his daily routines, Mueller runs tests three times per week on the wastewater that is in the plant. On the days he isn’t doing tests, he’s sending tests out for evaluation. Some of these tests take as little as 30 minutes while others take up to five days. Mueller has to be certified to perform each of these tests and he is also tested each year by the Environmental Protection Agency in order to keep his license up.
“I think it’s really challenging because you have to know what those tests you’re doing are telling you. You have to work it into the microbiology of the plant,” Mueller said. “All you’re doing is asking if this is too high of a level then do I give it more oxygen to make the aerobic bacteria work? Or, if it’s too low, do I cut the oxygen to make the anaerobic bacteria work?”
Mueller said that in a nutshell it’s all about finding a balance in the levels as the water is being treated.
When the wastewater enters the facility it goes through an initial screening process, then it travels through a more strenuous screening process that is designed to remove solids from the water.
Once the solids are removed from the water, whether they’re disposable wipes or other items, those solids are cleaned and properly disposed of. The water then flows through more stages of aeration and clarification before being sent out into the creek. The goal for the water is that it’s the least harmful it can be before it leaves the plant.
“We were lucky that the people who designed this plant also have a microbiologist, so if I have any questions we can discuss it and they shoot me some ideas,” Mueller said. “They also have tech support for the mechanical parts and the controls, but it’s state-of-the-art.”
Mayor Jimmie Schultz said council members are always reluctant to raise rates on anything because they pay them too, however in order for the city to look ahead, this proposal they’ll unveil is what they feel is best at this time.
“The council said we have to do something. We have a new plant, we have to pay for it. We don’t want to have to go out of the city to pay for someone to come test our water. We would rather have an employee who is capable of doing it. Hopefully Brad will be there for several more years but we’ve gotta get somebody trained,” Schultz said. “The council does not like to see price increases because they have to pay them too. That’s first and foremost, that we don’t like to do it. When there are no other options we have to.”