The Town of Bernalillo Public Works Department faces challenges every day given both the age and technology of our present plant. Also, the fact that the Town is growing and additional pressures are being placed on the aged system means a constant, daily battle. Until 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency had not issued a Discharge of NPDES Permit since 1994. That permit allows us to discharge treated wastewater into the Rio Grande on the condition that specific forces of treatment are achieved and a specific limitation on levels of pollutants is reached. When our plant was built, it was designed for the permit that was then in effect. It has operated well and continues to be producing discharge water that is with in the old permit boundaries.
The other problem which confronts our system is the proximity of housing to the plant. Twenty five years ago, this facility was well into the country side with no homes within a quarter-mile, at least. Now, there are homes at the fence line of the property. Treatments methods have not changed since this plant was built even though there have been improvements in the way some of the material produced in the plant is handled. Specifically, the sludge produced during treatment must be dried before it can be hauled by truck to the landfill facility. The drying process requires the sludge be turned, be infused with wood shavings or chips and remain on site until a low level of moisture is achieved. During this process, order is produced from the enzymatic activity taking place. We add odor reducing ingredients and odor masking agent to deep the noxious odors to a minimum. However, there are still times of the year — specifically, spring and fall — when the dramatic temperature changes limit our odor reduction efforts.
Finally, our pueblo neighbors have a great deal to say about the levels of pollutants, the ability to discharge into the river al all and the alternatives we are given for treatment processes. The EPA, during the hearings on new Permits, gives a great deal of weight to the wishes off the Native American population especially as regards the levels of pollutants in treated wastewater. Also the Pueblo of Sandia has asked that the Town of Bernalillo be particularly careful about all waters that flow into their sovereign lands whether from our plant or from storm events that may cause run-off through Bernalillo. We are sensitive to these request and, in an effort to be good neighbors, do whatever we can to accommodate their wishes. This also places interesting burdens on the Wastewater Plant operation.
In 2004, the EPA issued a new NPDES permit to the Town of Bernalillo. The requirements are significant and daunting. By some measures, ours is the most stringent permit issued in the State of New Mexico. In some instances, we are being asked to purify the discharge water beyond the naturally occurring levels of some elements. Also, the EPA gave us the deadline of three years from the permit date to come into compliance. Even if we could have begun building a new plant on the day the permit was received, we would still not be able to finish on time to reach that deadline!
Faced with the possibility of being found in violation of the new permit, and daily fines of up to $10,000.00, we turned to our engineers to ask what kind of plants we should build to reach these levels and how much it would cost. Our firm, Molzen-Corbin, produced a Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) to answer those and other questions about a new facility. With this report in hand have we have begun the process of acquiring sufficient money to build the required facility: $14 to $18 million. We look for grants, gifts, loans, taxes and bond issues to product sufficient money to satisfy the new requirements.