When Geneseo residents flush their toilets, as long as the waste disappears, most don’t care what happens next. But city officials and staff members care ... as does the Environmental Protection Agency.

When Geneseo residents flush their toilets, as long as the waste disappears, most don’t care what happens next. But city officials and staff members care ... as does the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wastewater in Geneseo travels west, with the help of gravity and a series of lift stations ultimately bound for the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, located off Stewart Street.

From the plant’s initial headworks intake area, wastewater flows through a series of digesters, clarifiers, aeration basins, rock and plastic trickling filters before emerging as clean water in either the Geneseo Creek or Green River.

An excess flow lagoon located west of the plant is used to handle overflow from the plant in wet-weather events.

The bulk of today’s treatment plant was built in 1957, with the last big upgrade in 1984.

The result is 60-year old structures operating with 30-year old equipment. Major upgrades are needed at the plant, but those upgrades come with a hefty price tag.

During the council’s Tuesday, April 24, meeting, aldermen listened to a presentation by Terry Boyer, a wastewater engineer with Donohue and Associates, who had evaluated the city’s plant.

Working with city staff members, Boyer reviewed the entire plant and created a prioritization schedule for upgrades.

“Basically everything at the plant needs some sort of upgrade or improvement in the future,” said Boyer. The needs assessment schedule he devised stretches until 2025.

Some items are more pressing than others, including an EPA mandated UV disinfection system which must be in operation by 2020. The city estimates the disinfection system upgrades will cost $1.8 million. Boyer said he also anticipates the EPA to mandate phosphorus treatment levels by 2030.

The wastewater treatment plant’s control building was built in 1957 and doesn’t meet today’s fire code standards.

The building includes a conference room, laboratory, maintenance garage, wet well access, digester gas boiler and grit removal facilities on the first floor, as well as grit pumping, raw sewage pumping, sludge pumping, digester gas piping and gas compression equipment in the basement.

All spaces within the building are interconnected, and because digester gas is present, “potential flammable conditions exist,” said Boyer.

There are also no gas seal offs from the control building to other areas of the treatment plant, which means a potential fire or explosion would be able to travel from one location to another at the plant.

Boyer said hazards from flammable and combustible gases, liquids and dusts exist at the current plant.

To fix the situation, main power at the control building would have to be distributed to other buildings. The interconnected building spaces would have to be eliminated as well.

Boyer recommended the city build a new grit tank in order to remove the current one from the control building’s basement. A new raw wastewater lift station would also be constructed so the wastewater wet well would no longer be under the building.

The Geneseo plant features two anaerobic digesters, built attached to the control building. For the anaerobic process to work, the digesters have closed roofs, which increases the potential of a methane gas disaster.

Instead, Boyer recommend switch the plant to an aerobic digester system, which doesn’t require a roof and is designed to have air pumped into the system, eliminating the potential for a methane gas explosion.

In total, upgrades at the plant could cost more than $6.6 million. In comparison, building an entirely new wastewater treatment plant would cost the city roughly $30 million.

“That wouldn’t include anything in the distribution system,” said public works director Chad VanDeWoestyne. The distribution system includes the pipes that run throughout the town.

City administrator Lisa Kotter called the suggested list of projects “a good step in getting a chunk of things off the list at the plant,” but added, “It’s still a drop in the bucket compared with what needs to be done.”

“It’s incredibly difficult to catch up on the work that needs to be done when there has been decades of inaction,” said Kotter, adding prior councils’ unwillingness to raise water and sewer rates had tied the city’s hands when it came to upgrading the system.

“I don’t know how many more Band-Aids we can put on this system,” said alderman Martin Rothschild.

Aldermen were encouraged to visit the wastewater treatment plant to better understand the city’s needs.