Farmington plans updates to wastewater plant

Improvements to the facility are expected to make the plant compliant with stricter federal sewage regulations in the future

Brett Berntsen
An ultra-violet disinfection system will replace the current one the Farmington wastewater treatment plant uses. That system, pictured here on Thursday, involves treating the water with chlorine solution and a neutralizing agent as it leaves the plant on South Lake Street in Farmington.
  • Farmington is planning updates to its wastewater treatment facility on South Lake Street.
  • Earlier this week, city councilors approved a $22 million loan to pay for the improvements.
  • The updates are expected to help the plant comply with stricter federal regulations in the future.
  • The plant plans to add modern filtration ponds that use activated sludge technology.

FARMINGTON — The city is planning to improve and expand its wastewater treatment plant as it anticipates stricter sewage regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The City Council on Tuesday approved a $22 million loan agreement that will go toward installing modern filtration ponds and disinfection equipment at the facility. The funds will come from the New Mexico Environment Department through a federal program that finances water infrastructure improvement projects.

At the moment, the local facility on South Lake Street meets all federal regulations, according to Dean Roquemore, the plant’s operations manager. But the EPA updates its sewage discharge standards every five years, and Roquemore said the planned improvements will satisfy future requirements.

"This is mostly regulation driven," Roquemore said. "The rules never get more relaxed. They only get stricter."

The new processing ponds will utilize activated sludge technology, which aerates water so bacteria can break down waste more efficiently. The plant currently processes half of its water through a 1950s-era filtration system. That system depends on bacteria, which "don't do well in colder months."

"But by adding air, they can generate their own heat," Roquemore explained.

Dean Roquemore, operations manager at the Farmington wastewater treatment plant, stands in front of the facility's activated sludge processing basin on Thursday at the plant on South Lake Street.

The plant will demolish its old filtration ponds and construct two additional activated sludge basins. Improvements also include an indoor solid waste processing facility and an ultraviolet disinfection system. Currently, water that leaves the facility is treated with a chlorine solution and a neutralizing agent before it enters the San Juan River. Blasting the discharged water with UV rays will eliminate the use of chemicals.

Farmington's wastewater system is the largest in San Juan County. It contains 235 miles of collection lines and can handle 6.67 million gallons of sewage a day. Roquemore said the improvements are necessary as the city moves forward.

"They will certainly make the facility a lot cleaner," Roquemore said. "You need to have good water systems for a city to grow."

A duck swims in a clarifying pond on Thursday at the Farmington wastewater treatment plant on South Lake Street.

The loan funding the improvements comes with a 3-percent interest rate, and the city will have 20 years to pay it off. Payments will total roughly $29.5 million, according to the loan agreement.

The city previously asked for a $14 million loan, but construction bids were higher than estimated, said Wastewater Administrator Jeff Smaka.

Smaka said the state has already approved the loan amount, and the city will soon re-open the bidding process. He said all previous bids came from New Mexico companies, but there’s no in-state preference because the funding comes from a federal source.

The loan agreement states construction must be completed by Jan. 31, 2019.

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.