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Waupun’s $32 million wastewater project includes producing algae for industrial uses
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Waupun’s $32 million wastewater project includes producing algae for industrial uses


A plan to meet upcoming wastewater discharge requirements was discussed at an open house at Waupun Utilities on Wednesday night. The $32 million plant upgrade is the only viable option, and will have a nominal impact on city sewer rates. From left are alderman Pete Kaczmarski, Waupun Utilities General Manager Randy Posthuma and Waupun City Finance Director Jared Oosterhouse.

WAUPUN – According to Kermit the Frog, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” although that color may lead to salvation for Waupun’s wastewater discharge.

The Waupun Wastewater Treatment Plant is, in fact, hopping on a plan to meet new phosphorus and nitrate discharge limits. Other communities are watching and waiting to see if it can be done.

A $32 million plan to meet discharge limits – the only viable solution – was shared at an open house Wednesday night at the Waupun Utilities building at 817 S. Madison St. A rate increase will be expected at all wastewater treatment facilities in the state, but the one Waupun is pursuing is likely to be the only one that taxpayers can afford.

“Changing discharge limits are being mandated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources DNR and the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Waupun Utilities General Manager Randy Posthuma. “Our design study of the wastewater facility has been completed, and the impact of our plans has been considered as well.”

He added, “New, more stringent limits are being implemented by the EPA, and what follows are our plans to meet those standards in a responsible and cost effective manner.”

Alternatives includes chemical addition, multi-discharger variance, adaptive management and water quality trading. All are deemed unfeasible or ineligible for funding. A facility upgrade has been deemed the best choice.

Waupun’s timing was ideal, according to Jim Smith, an engineer with Applied Technologies.

“In July of 2018 we actually submitted an application for funding through the United States Department of Agriculture. The new standards came out and the USDA was looking for projects to fund, so that was very fortunate,” said Smith. “In February we were determined to move forward and now we are committed to using up the money by 2023, which is one of our requirements.”

The Waupun facility treats an average of 1 million gallons of water per day. Wastewater (effluent) ends up in the Rock River – which is the case for most communities in the Rock River Basin. Phosphorus in an abundant byproduct of life, and when it reaches a body of water through wastewater (point source) and other run-off (non-point) it promotes the growth of algae. By treating wastewater before it enters waterways, algae can be harvested. That product can be used as fertilizer or can be processed into a high protein material for manufacturing or as an ingredient in animal feed and other agricultural applications.

Waupun’s effluent has been well within the DNR’s current limit of 1 milligram per liter. Future phosphorus limits will be .05 milligrams per liter. Options to reduce those limits include mechanical filtration or Waupun’s chosen method of algae growth and harvest. Algae will actually add revenue to the equation rather than simply adding to rising costs.

Waupun’s upgrade is an advanced biological nutrient recovery system. That system will include a greenhouse and 85 miles of photobioreactors (clear tubes where sunlight interacts with phosphorus to grow algae). Equipment to remove algae includes a mechanical membrane separator, a centrifuge and a dryer.

The system will produce two tons of algae per day. The greenhouse will be built on the north side of the wastewater treatment plant at 501 Fond du Lac St.

Total project cost is $32 million. A 40-year loan of nearly $23 million has an interest rate of 2.375 percent, for an annual payment of nearly $890,000. A grant of nearly $9.5 million will help to cover the difference.

According to Waupun City Treasurer Jared Oosterhouse, “It is a substantial increase from what we are paying today for debt service. We do plan in 2022 to pay off a loan from 2003 so we meet all the debt service requirements for both loans. As far as operation and maintenance, we’re looking at an increase of $489,800 from where we are today in 2019. That’s a significant increase as well and when we break that down a lot is coming from increased utility usage.”

Of the $490,000, 55 percent ($270,000) is for increased electric and natural gas use. Electric use includes LED lighting to encourage photosynthesis. Natural gas is used to dry a green paste to be sold on the open market.

Impact on rates, phased in over four years, is an increase of 7.2 percent. Residential customers will see a rise of $19 per year. Monthly sewer rates will rise from $19.42 to $25.98. Annually that means a rise from $233.21 to $311.80. Charges are projected to be in the lower range of 18 area cities, and competitive with all of them. The Class C Utilities average is $32.52 per month or $390.22 annually.

The increases in utility charges will appear in bills starting April 1, 2020. Waupun should achieve DNR compliance in 2025.

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