Councilors get close view of wastewater plant


DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE With the wastewater treatment plant buildings behind them, city officials review one of the treatment features during a tour given by wastewater treatment plant superintendent Aaron Hamersma, right. From left, are Councilor Luan Ruesink, Mayor Tony Archer and Councilor John Dols.

DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Wastewater treatment plant superintendent Aaron Hamersma shows a jar full of the bugs that do the work of treating wastewater that comes into the plant. The wastewater that enters the plant looks much like the contents of the jar at the right.
By: 
David Phillips

The Spring Valley City Council took a tour of the city’s wastewater treatment plant during a regular meeting Monday, June 24.

Aaron Hamersma, superintendent of the facility, took the council members through the buildings near the ambulance facility and explained the operation after the regular meeting business had concluded. The council business took just 12 minutes as there were few agenda items.

Except for the recent flood, it was a pretty quiet month at the plant, Hamersma told the council. During the flood, he was called into the plant at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15, and left the plant about 3:30 a.m. Sunday.

The flow reached 1.88 million gallons, which is short of the maximum 2 million it has received in the past when the plant maxed out, but still well above usual flow of 200,000 gallons per day. Since March, the average peak has been closer to 700,000, Hamersma said, as the wet weather has increased the flow with groundwater getting into the wastewater system.

“The plant was designed to handle up to 2 million gallons per day at peak wet weather flow,” Hamersma told the council. “It can’t handle it for long, but it can take it.”

At the peak, four pumps are running constantly, Hamersma noted. Normally, one pump runs for seven to 10 minutes and then turns off, totaling about an hour a day on average.

“The plant can handle it, but you look at how much extra pumping, that’s wear and tear on pumps, electricity that we are using,” he said. “It all costs money with all this extra groundwater.”

The good part, Hamersma reported, is that, as bad as it looks now, when he used to work at the plant before some of the line problems were discovered, the plant would be at its peak of 2 million gallons for several weeks in the spring. He noted that as soon as the weather cooperates, a crew will be using a camera when the water goes back down to determine other influxes of groundwater into the drainage system.

“We’re heading in the right direction. We just need time and better weather,” he said.

During the demonstration at the plant, Hamersma showed the councilors samples of the effluent coming in, which is 99 percent liquid, and what leaves the plant, which is well above the state standards.

“This is a completely biological plant,” he said. “We don’t do anything special, we’re not injecting any chemicals. It’s just naturally occurring bugs that do all the work.”

Basically, the plant offers the bugs air and a home so they can treat the wastewater. He showed a sample container with dark water that contained the bugs, although people mistake it for something like silt.

When waste is taken out to the city farm to spread on fields for fertilizer, Hamersma said it is full of excess bugs, not human waste as people think. He pointed out that the water from a washing machine far exceeds the amount from a toilet, leading to mostly water coming into the plant.

He also pointed out that the city has about 26 miles of sewer line with about half the wastewater going to the main lift station at the utilities plant.

Library open again

In other department head reports, library director Jenny Simon told the council it has been a “long month” as rain flooded the building from the roof, causing the library to close for a week. The first summer reading program on the same day the library reopened drew 385 people, she said.

“It’s just been busy,” she said.

The second program also went well with historian Arn Kind at the Spring Valley Community Center drawing 80 people for the evening program. A magician is set for the next program.

As far as the library building, there are just a few things left to do, such as putting back some ceiling tiles, and “then we’re back in shape,” Simon said.

Ambulance also busy

Ambulance co-director Sue Puffer said her department has also been busy, partly due to assisting the fire departments and emergency management. The service is seven calls ahead of last year at the same point in the year.

She also noted that as of Jan. 1, 2020, the service has to go to electronic records. A program has been purchased by the state, so the local service only has to download it to convert to a new system. A couple of laptops have been ordered through Spring Valley Tech Solutions with owner Brian Danielson assisting in the setup of the new program, which Puffer hopes to have up and running by Oct. 1.

She also noted that through the night of the meeting, there had been four calls that required a second vehicle to go out in June. She wanted to acknowledge the staff members not on call who took those calls.

Pool keeping full

Parks and Recreation director John Fenske told the council that he hasn’t had to add water to the pool for four days. Last year, he was adding an average of about 7,000 gallons a day so “that’s a pretty good fix.” The city repaired the plumbing to the pool prior to the 2019 opening.

“It’s running pretty well up there; the only thing is we could use a little bit warmer weather...the heater has really been running like crazy,” Fenske said after an extended cool streak.

He also told the council the community center got a little water, but not much, during the flood.

Rain affects outside work, too

Chad Hindt, who is in charge of streets, also cited the rain as his department has been mowing, trimming and “working on trying to get caught up from spring between the rain here and there.” The department also worked on utility cuts, applying blacktop back over them when the crew was in town for the street project.

The crew started sweeping the streets after the flood, but found out there was a water pump out on the street sweeper, so that is being repaired. The crew also put some metal picnic tables together and plans to install them at the pavilion in South Park. The next project is working on signs removed for the street construction, getting those back in place. Another task was repairing a wheel bearing and brakes in a squad car.

The men have also helped at the wastewater treatment plant and getting the library back in working order.

Stable electricity

In commissioner reports, Councilor Luan Ruesink said she attended the Public Utilities Commission meeting on June 19, in which it was noted that the storm that came through June 4 didn’t knock out any power in the city and the commissioners were “happy for the underground electrical” grid that had been put in, replacing overhead wires.

In the June 16 storm, lightning hit a transformer that left some customers without power for a while. The transformer will be exchanged.

During the flood, high water didn’t affect that plant at all, although people were there to monitor it, she reported.

Also, across from the utility plant, some soil contamination recovery work was done by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It is complete for now with no costs to the city. Monitoring wells put in several decades ago indicated a problem from an apparent previous fuel spill, which is why workers were there.

Other business

• Approval was given to street closures for the parade, street dance, fireworks and South Park activities during Ag Days per a request made by the Spring Valley Chamber of Commerce. The request for a temporary liquor license was approved, contingent on receiving the necessary forms.

• Sgt. Jessy Betts of the Fillmore County Sheriff’s Office told the council that the city is back at full force with the addition of two officers (see related story on newest addition).

• In the city administrator’s report, Deb Zimmer told the council she received notice that the city will have a reduction of $19,565 in the city’s tax settlement due to Minnesota Energy having assessed value of property re-evaluated for 2009 to 2013. That amount will come off this year, Zimmer noted.

• In council reports, Ruesink reminded residents to not blow grass into the streets when mowing lawns because it creates dangerous conditions for motorcycle riders and bicyclists. Mayor Tony Archer also noted the clippings would go in the drains.

• In the mayor’s report, Archer thanked everyone for helping with the library, getting things cleaned up and back in operation. He also thanked emergency management, law enforcement, firefighters, the ambulance crew and others from the city for assisting with the flood on June 15. Other individuals provided dinner rolls and water for them. He also reminded people to get out and enjoy Fins and Films the weekend of July 5.

• Councilor Chris Danielson was absent from the meeting.