Ecology permit finalized

New requirements for wastewater treatment plants will not be as dramatic as some officials feared.

New requirements from the state Department of Ecology for wastewater treatment plants will not be as dramatic as some Coupeville officials feared, though they still might cost the town a pretty penny.

Last month, the department finalized a new general permit for sewage treatment plants that discharge into the Puget Sound. Permit requirements center around reducing the amount of total inorganic nitrogen, a nutrient that causes dead zones for marine life, that gets dumped into Puget Sound.

Coupeville Utility Superintendent Joe Grogan told the town council during its Feb. 8 meeting that the general permit does not enforce specific nitrogen limits for plants with small nutrient loads. All four Whidbey Island wastewater treatment facilities included in the permit — Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Penn Cove and Langley — fall into this category.

The permit will still require the plants to select a strategy to optimize nitrogen output and make a plan to implement that strategy by the end of the year. Small plants will also have to complete an “All Known, Available and Reasonable Treatments,” or AKART, analysis.

“It’s fortunate that we don’t have a limit, but at the same time they’re putting all the work on the small utility to tell them what we’re able to do,” Grogan told the council.

Completing the permit’s initial steps will be expensive, Grogan said. The Department of Ecology has set aside $9 million in grants to help plants meet the new permit requirements. Coupeville is preliminarily slated to receive $172,894, while Oak Harbor will receive $116,942, Langley will receive $172,395 and the Penn Cove Water and Sewer District will receive $154,410.

Grogan said the grant amount allotted by the department will not come close to covering the cost of the permit, though it is difficult to determine exactly what the price tag will be until after the town has completed the AKART analysis.

The next step for Coupeville will be to automate wastewater sampling so that the discharge is monitored constantly instead of taking quarterly samples.