DAYTON — City leaders here likely will ask the state Department of Ecology for an extension to comply with its requirement to stop pouring wastewater from the current treatment plant into the Touchet River by December 2021.

“That’s first and foremost,” Dayton Mayor Zac Weatherford said, adding the deadline set by the state Department of Ecology was fast-approaching.

“We have to stop putting water in the river for at least six months of the year,” he said.

But with the current plant, the water isn’t up to par with allowable contaminants, so either upgrades must be made to the plant or a new plant built. The new plant can either comply with allowing water into the river half of the year or the whole year, he said. With the whole year, if the department mandated no wastewater go back into the river, then the city would already be compliant, he said, but that likely would cost more money.

Also, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and state Water Trust have said they want the treated water to go back into the river due to its ecological benefits.

Dayton lacks the funds to build a new plant or make necessary upgrades to the current one.

However, the city is considering its choices, as it did at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, where project updates were discussed.

“We’re trying to come up with an option to put the water back into the Touchet River,” City Clerk Trina Cole said.

So city officials are looking at a land-application treatment option, she said, which would lease the plant’s water to someone who wants to use it for crops, such as alfalfa, to be fed to livestock. The water would not be used for crops later given to people, she said.

Additionally, Cole said, the city was advised that treated water was safe to pour into the river six to eight months of the year.

Treated water going back into the Walla Walla Watershed must meet total maximum daily load requirements set by the Washington State Department of Ecology. The TMDLs include chlorinated pesticides, fecal coliform, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and polychlorinated biphenyls.

To meet those daily load requirements, either upgrades must be made or the city needs a new plant — $1 million for land and another $14-20 million for building, Cole said.

In August 2018, the state Public Works Board awarded the city a $1 million low-interest loan to help finance preconstruction services, including land acquisition, Cole said. The state Department of Ecology Clean Water Act also gave the city a low-interest loan, she said, for $990,000, of which $495,000 is forgivable, for the project’s design engineering services. Construction funds won’t be attainable until design is finished, she said.

The city is trying not to pass the bill on to residents through their sewer utility fee, she said. Now, a single residential unit within city limits is charged $62.55 per month, she said. It was unclear what the fee increase would be until a new facility was designed, she said, and how much funding was secured.

“We have and will continue to aggressively pursue grant funds to construct a new facility, that of which is mandated by the Department of Ecology,” she wrote in an email. “If the city is unsuccessful in acquiring grant funds then yes, unfortunately, a new wastewater treatment facility will require a continued increase in sewer utility rates to repay any debt associated with its construction. Until it is designed, the city cannot be certain what those fees will look like.”

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.

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