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After three years, an agreement between Beaver Dam and the state Department of Natural Resources is close to being complete and it may result in the construction of a new facility to limit phosphorus in the Beaver Dam River while also providing a new source of revenue for the city.

Utility Director Rob Minnema updated the Beaver Dam Common Council regarding the DNR settlement for phosphorus limits. In 2014, it was estimated that it would cost the city $15 million to upgrade the current water treatment plant to bring the city into compliance. Later that year, the council voted to hire a law firm to negotiate the requirement with the DNR. Today, Minnema said that a DNR settlement would require the city to adhere to a new phosphorus limit. A DNR-mandated timeline wants a facility plan in place by the end of next year in order to achieve compliance.

Phosphorus is a chemical element found in fertilizers that feeds algae and weed growth in waterways.

It can be washed into waterways when it rains, when snow melts, or it can discharged through pipes from industrial and wastewater utility facilities.

Minnema said that he has explored methods to limit the phosphorus effluent that include water quality trading, adaptive quality management and a water treatment facility upgrade. He said that his department has weighed all the options to determine what would be the most cost-effective alternative.

For the project, Minnema is interested in pursuing a company called Clearas Water Recovery based in Missoula, Montana.

Clearas uses an advanced biological nutrient recovery system, which converts phosphorus and nitrogen into biomass. According to Minnema, it would also create zero waste.

Leo Kucek, a project engineer with Allied Technologies Inc., explains that the process is similar to harvesting algae in the waterways. The algae are feeding off the nutrients spilled into the waterways and a potential Clearas facility would separate the phosphorus out of the algae. That byproduct from the algae can be turned into bioplastic products like pellets, shoes and more.

“It’s a resources recovery type of technology,” he said.

Kucek and Minnema plan to head out to Utah, where a Clearas facility is currently being constructed, and take some notes on how a similar facility could benefit Beaver Dam’s needs.

The cost to build such a facility may cost more than $24.3 million and it could be constructed by 2020.

However, Minnema told the Beaver Dam Common Council that this system could bring in $1 million in annual revenue for the city. It’s estimated that after 20 years, the facility would have paid for itself.

“It’s a huge market,” Minnema said.

A letter of intent to explore the upgrade as part of a facilities plan will need to be approved by the council. The Utilities Department will also need approval to move forward with the settlement process.

Minnema said that there would be no financial commitment going into further discussions with Clearas.

“We should know what direction we are going by sometime in July of 2018,” he said.

Minnema has requested a facility plan to not exceed $50,000 for the 2018 city budget. If the council approves the study, it could be completed by April 2018. From there the study would be turned over to the DNR for its approval.

According to the DNR-mandated timeline, Beaver Dam needs to achieve compliance by July 2023.

Ben Rueter covers Beaver Dam, Horicon and Juneau city governments for the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen.