What alternatives have been considered?

In 2002, a legal entity called the Central St. Croix Sewerage Commission was created to study and oversee one waste water treatment facility that both the villages of Roberts and Hammond could use.  The commission was formed after the state raised concerns about groundwater if Roberts continued to discharge waste water into East Twin Lake when the village replaced its waste water treatment facility. It was suggested that Hammond, whose own treatment facility was causing environmental concerns, join Roberts in building one treatment facility (5).

In 2005, the Roberts and Hammond village boards voted to dissolve the commission and go it alone.  The move to disband followed decisions in August of 2004 by the state Department of Natural Resources to accept individual facility plans for new treatment plants.  The DNR decided that it would be acceptable for Roberts to discharge into East Twin Lake. And, as part of its new facility, the state allowed Hammond to retain its existing absorption ponds and to construct new absorption ponds.  “I think we have a reasonable solution now at this point,” said Tom Gilbert, wastewater facility planning coordinator for the DNR’s Bureau of Watershed Management.  Planning for new sewage treatment plants in the area is tricky, Gilbert said.  For one, the cost of discharging into a major river such as the Mississippi is prohibitive because waste water would have to be sent long distances via pipes. And there are strict limits on what can be discharged into smaller streams.  Moreover, the soil type does not prevent surface water from quickly getting into groundwater.  “It was a difficult planning process because they didn’t have a lot of options,” Gilbert said (5).

In 2004, the Village of Hammond contracted with Ayres Associates Inc. (Eau Claire) to engineer and design wastewater treatment facilities for Hammond including up to four discharge seepage cells with a calculated disposal capacity of around 450,000 gallons per day.  In 2012, the Village sued Ayres for breach of contract, and negligence, claiming Ayres improperly designed the seepage cells.  In 2015, the Village discovered “a new and different problem” with the treatment system. The new complaint says that Hammond has learned that the nitrogen levels in the groundwater are in excess of permit requirements and that concentrations of nitrate and nitrite in drinking water, above permitted levels, can be harmful, especially to infants and children (6).  

Today, the $6 million plant, built in anticipation of a building boom, barely handles the 1,900 residents as it is.  Currently, the plant is only able to treat about 120,000 gallons of wastewater per day.  This meets current Village needs, but allows for very little growth in either housing or industry within the Village.  As a result, the Village had to limit the number of new homes and businesses that could be built in the Village limits, as watewater treatment capacity could not sustain large-scale growth (7).

After years of engineering, testing, and trying repairs and fixes, engineering experts hired by the Village feel the planned repairs will solve the issues at the wastewater treatment plant.  The plant should be able to double its wastewater treatment capacity to 200,000-240,000 gallons per day, which could last the Village 20 years depending on growth in the Village.  In addition to engineering costs incurred by the Village to explore possible fixes for the sewage treatment plant, the Village also incurrend over $379,000 in legal fees during the 5-year litigation process.  It is believed that planned repairs will double the wastewater capacity to 240,000 gal/day, or to about 50% of the original planned capacity and that the installation and programming of new equipment at the plant to add chemicals to the system will bring nitrate levels down where they need to be (8).  

In sum, the Village of Hammond paid $6M in 2004 for a treatment plant that has operated at 27% of  design capacity.  They paid an additional $379,00 in legal fees as well as an unspecified amount in engineering costs to explore possible fixes.  In return, they received a treatment plant that has effectively stunted residential and industrial growth in Hammond since 2004.  For  their part, Ayres Associates will pay $400,000 to the Village and are released from any further litigation pertaining to the lawsuit (9).

Like the Village of Hammond, the Village of Roberts relies on disposing of wastewater into groundwater via Twin Lakes.  The resulting flooding of West Twin Lake has primarily affected 28 properties worth $5.56M  (2016)  in the neighboring Town of Warren.

The 2004 Environmental Assessment prepared by the DNR for the Villages of Hammond and Roberts listed 13 disposal alternatives (1).  The first  four and the last two options are discharge to groundwater.  The remaining seven options are discharge to a river:

Option Discharge to Disposal Alternative  Considered
1 Groundwater Hammond Discharges to an Absorption Pond System
2 Groundwater via Twin Lake Joint discharge to East Twin Lake
3 Groundwater Joint discharge to an Absorption Pond System
4 Groundwater Hammond Discharges to Absorption Ponds On-Site, and Roberts Discharges to Absorption Ponds
5 River Willow River near Boardman Wisconsin
6 River Lower St. Croix River
7 River Pump raw wastewater to The MPCA
8 River Mississippi River near Hager City, Wisconsin
9 River Eau Galle Rier
10 River Red Cedar River
11 River via Casey Lake Kinnickinnic River
12 Groundwater Spray irrigation
13 Groundwater On-site system


Option 8 was discharge to the Mississippi River near Hager City, Wisconsin:  This alternative was not recommended because of the cost to construct approximately 30 miles of pipeline and other construction-related issues.  Cost of pipeline alone was $38.6 million to serve Hammond, Roberts, Baldwin, Woodville, River Falls, and Ellsworth.  

As noted above, since 2004 the Village of Hammond has spend $6.4M, not including engineering costs to explore possible fixes, on a wastewater treatment plant that has contaminated their groundwater with nitrates and has stunted residential and industrial growth.  Had option 8 been implemented instead, the average cost per community would have been $6.4M in 2004 dollars, less than what the Village of Hammond has spent on their current solution.  Likewise, this option would have protected groundwater and resolved a key limit to growth for the communities of Roberts, Baldwin, Woodville, River Falls, and Ellsworth.

Option 5 Discharge to Willow River near Boardman, Wisconsin noted that roughly $4M would be needed to construct a force main for Roberts alone.  It was noted that this discharge location is above both an impaired water (Lake Mallalieu) and Exceptional Resource Waters (the lower Willow River and the St. Croix River).  Discharge would have been allowed at this site if advance treatment cosisting of nutrient removal for both phosphorus and nitrogen conpled with low-pressure filtration (microfiltration or equivalent) were provided along with source reduction (1).  At their February 2017 meeting, the Village of Roberts trustees approved a recommendation from their Public Works Committee to add the Clearas algae technology treatment option to their facility plan.  The Clearas green technology mixes hybrid algae with waste effluent, then uses photosynthesis to grow the algae which consume phosphorus and nitrogen present in the effluent, then separates the algae from the clean water using microfiltration. The Village must put in place the means to meet the DNR’s stringent new phosphorus requirement set to take effect Jan.1, 2019.  The Clearas technology may have the potential to meet the requirements for effluent discharge to the Willow River near Boardman.