When the Mat-Su Borough submits July’s fecal coliform measurements for the Talkeetna sewer lagoon, they will be out of compliance with their permit, but the head of the Borough’s Public Works Division says that progress is being made toward bringing that number down.
Back in May, the Mat-Su Borough was issued a notice of violation from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for missing records for the Talkeetna sewer lagoon. According to both the borough and ADEC, the records were being kept, but were not on the correct form, meaning that some data was not making it into the state’s database. As a result, it appeared as if the records were missing. Now, both the borough and state say that the correct forms have been submitted, and the paperwork violations have been resolved.
Where there are still struggles for Talkeetna’s sewer lagoon is in the treatment of the sewage itself. According to Terry Dolan, Public Works Director for the Mat-Su Borough, the lagoon’s fecal coliform numbers came back at more than seven times the allowed amount when tested last month. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, while fecal coliform is not particularly hazardous on its own, high levels could indicate contamination by other pathogens associated with human waste.
Terry Dolan says that, while the amount of fecal coliform is higher than permit requirements, there has been progress. July’s numbers are close to measurements taken in September of last year.
Terry Dolan says the problems the sewer lagoon is experiencing are the result of a number of issues over time. He says the borough has taken steps this summer to help get the lagoon back into compliance. Those steps include skimming duckweed and grease off of the lagoon’s surface and replanting the wetlands that act as part of the treatment process. Dolan says that duckweed and oils can prevent oxygen transfer, part of the natural process that the lagoon uses to break down fecal coliform and other bacteria. Vegetation can also prevent penetration by ultraviolet light, which is also part of the treatment process.
The Talkeetna sewer lagoon is on a self-reporting system. Samples are taken and tested where the water flows into a slough leading to the Talkeetna River. The results are then sent to ADEC, who control’s the lagoon’s permit. Now that the sampling data is complete and in the correct format, the state is assessing the information, according to ADEC Enforcement Officer Kara Kusche, who wrote the notice of violation to the borough in May. Kusche says that ADEC has a system of escalating enforcement that begins with letters, and then moves to notices of violation. In cases where problems persist, she says further escalation could mean fines or monitored action plans. As of right now, the Talkeetna sewer lagoon has not moved into the more escalated forms of enforcement.
Terry Dolan says the borough is prepared to take more drastic measures to bring the fecal coliform measurements into compliance, potentially including temporary artificial aeration using borrowed equipment from the City of Palmer. He says the ultimate goal is to get the lagoon back to compliance levels in the hope that the system will be able to sustain itself once again once the high levels of bacteria are diminished. Whether or not that step is taken will depend on the measurements taken this month.