Meeting to discuss sale of treated wastewater to fertilizer plant

Meeting to discuss sale of treated wastewater to fertilizer plant

URBANA — Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District officials hope a public meeting tonight (Wednesday, May 8) will drum up some interest in a proposal to sell treated wastewater to a billion-dollar fertilizer plant looking for a home.

Illinois and Iowa are in a bidding war to attract Cronus Chemical, and a site in Tuscola is a leading contender. State officials have said that, at a minimum, the $1.2 billion project would require as many as 2,000 construction jobs, and the Cronus plant would provide roughly 200 regular full-time employees.

The fertilizer producer would need about 6.3 million gallons of water per day in its manufacturing process. Instead of drawing clean drinking water, a consultant for Cronus Chemical has asked the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District for a direct flow of treated wastewater.

Sanitary district officials have scheduled a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. today at their headquarters at 1100 E. University Ave., U, to collect input on the proposal.

Executive Director Rick Manner told the sanitary district board last week that officials have aggressively been trying to make the public aware of what is on the table.

"In every venue that I run in to, we have been bothering and pestering them for comments and interest in this," Manner said.

From its two plants, the district normally discharges that treated sewage — called "effluent" — into local streams, at a rate of about 21 million gallons a day.

Some have said that diverting 6.3 million gallons of water from the Copper Slough and the Saline Branch streams could affect downstream recreational activities and ecosystems.

"From my perspective, this all seems very quick," said Kim Knowles, a staff attorney for Prairie Rivers Network, a group that advocates for clean water and healthy rivers.

"It seems rushed and I don't know how many of your constituents know about this," she told the sanitary district board.

In a letter to the Champaign County Board seeking reappointment to the sanitary district board, Jennifer Putman said that her approach to the Cronus proposal is "a blend of optimism and caution."

"The jobs-creating benefits of the proposed urea-based fertilizer production facility have received attention among economic developers and from state legislators," she wrote in the letter. "On the other hand, members of the Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club believe that water sales would change the flow of the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River, the Copper Slough, and the Kaskaskia River."

She adds that there are also concerns about how the plan would affect the Mahomet Aquifer and the region's water supply.

"Our goal is to ensure that any sale remain consistent with the mission of the UCSD and with the District's focus on public health," Putman wrote.

District officials in the past month have drafted a policy that outlines how the agency should deal with the sale of effluent, biosolids or other byproducts of its plants' sewage treatment processes.

The policy says any sale should be financially beneficial to the district and "providing some minimum sustaining level of effluent discharge to support aquatic uses of the creeks during drought is highly desirable."

Manner has said that the district should have enough water pumping through its plants to make a sale to Cronus Chemical and maintain adequate stream levels.

"I think everything we've seen so far shows that we do have enough water for all the purposes we've been talking about," Manner said.

It also goes on to say beneficial reuse of biosolids and retaining enough water within the watershed to encourage groundwater recharge is "highly desirable."

Manner said the policy will cover the district not only for the Cronus proposal, but also when any future deals might be on the table.

"We want to make sure that we're seriously covered because this contract, if signed, is worth enough dollars that we want to make sure it's done right," Manner said.

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