Streator city officials hope to move the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s spotlight away from the city and toward other factors when it comes to Vermilion River contamination.
Potential new regulations may create phosphorus limits for the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, which could require the installation of new equipment and a rise in sewer rate fees to offset that cost.
But City Manager Scot Wrighton said the city’s discharged, treated liquid waste pales in comparison to other contributing factors such as nitrates from agricultural runoff and mercury from mine seepage runoffs.
Additionally, Wrighton said 90 percent of phosphorus comes from agricultural activities and 10 percent from municipal.
“They’re focusing on point-source phosphorus, which isn’t even a priority for the Vermilion River Watershed and that has the potential to drive up our cost,” Wrighton said.
Wrighton equated it to reducing cup holders in cars to reduce drunken driving.
For a better understanding, the council was invited to take a tour of the facility with Veolia Water North America, the contract operator of the city-owned wastewater treatment facility.
Mayor Jimmie Lansford suggested reaching out to officials such as state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, state Rep. Jerry Long, R-Streator, and Congressman Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon.
Wrighton said the policy is statewide and does not directly target Streator, but lamented the wide-reaching policy may not be the best fit for communities such as Streator.
City Engineer Jeremy Palm said the IEPA is currently uncertain what the phosphorus limit would be for the city. The city recently produced two milligrams of phosphorus per liter and that it was likely the limit would be at one milligram per liter.
“A larger portion of the year we do meet that but there are periods of the year that we don’t,” Palm said. “If they establish that, we would have to install some other treatment process.”
Shawn Wright, project manager at Veolia Water North America, was on hand to answer questions and suggested equipment installed at other plants could cost around $1 million for Streator.
City Councilman Joe Scarbeary asked whether the city’s plan to reduce the number of combined sewers could negate the issue.
Palm said it would certainly help, but whether it would bring the city under the one-milligram limit is uncertain.
Wrighton added that it was worth considering in the future as the city could argue it needs time to continue its program of combined sewers, which may bring the amount down below the limit instead of installing new equipment.
The City Council will, for now, attempt to reach out to public officials and other communities experiencing similar situations in order to change the IEPA’s focus toward nitrates and mercury runoffs rather than municipalities.
“We need to take a leadership role and we haven’t been afraid to do that in several other areas,” said City Councilman Ed Brozak. “See if we can make this a study area and come up with some answers.”