Saying that to not act would be “reckless” but doing so could be considered “a calculated risk,” Spokane County commissioners signed a contract to accelerate the building of a new wastewater treatment plant.
The agreement, which will initially cost the county $7 million on design and to secure permits, does not allow Colorado-based CH2M Hill to start construction. It does, however, put the wheels in motion to eventually build the $170 million plant that will eventually serve areas of the unincorporated county and the city of Spokane Valley.
However, the county still does not have a permit from the Department of Ecology that will allow the plant to discharge treated wastewater into the Spokane River. The possibility of securing such a permit is at least a year away, said Bruce Rawls, county utilities director.
With that in mind, Rawls suggested the county pursue three alternatives where treated water could be sent other than the river.
One of the most discussed options has been to pump treated water 17 miles away to the Saltese Flats in order to create a wetlands area. About 12 million gallons of processed water could be sent each day at a cost of about $40 million.
Treated water could also be used to recharge the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. This solution would only allow for about 2 million gallons of water to be treated daily, and the county could incur large costs to build holding tanks for the treated water before it could be placed in the aquifer.
Finally, it’s possible that local industries – such as Inland Empire Paper Co. – could use the treated water in their production. IEP, for example, already uses about 4 million gallons a day in its production of newsprint. However, Rawls said, there are no guarantees that IEP would be interested in such an idea – but he does consider it the “best option” for the county.
“My feeling is that with these alternatives we should start pursuing them now,” he said. “It could take up to three years to implement any of them.”
That would mean that they would be ready near the time the plant is finished so they could be put into action if a discharge permit for the river isn’t secured.
Commissioner Bonnie Mager was leery about signing an agreement to move forward with the plant without having some sense of certainty that it would not be “mothballed” because there was no discharge permit in hand.
“I just want to make sure that we’ve had the discussions beforehand,” she said.
The three alternatives, which the commissioners support, lessen that possibility, Rawls said.
“If I thought there was a 50-50 chance we couldn’t use the plant I wouldn’t be making this recommendation,” Rawls said.
Board Chairman Todd Mielke said there was no use in delaying the decision any longer.
“I think we’re at the decision point,” he said. “The fact we have to make a decision won’t change in six months.”
Commissioner Mark Richard said that, however the treated water is discharged, the plant will have to be built.
“This plant is the core to the solution any which way we go,” he said.
When it came time to make the vote, Mager was in the 2-1 minority.