URBANA — Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District officials will be considering a deal to pump treated wastewater directly to a fertilizer facility looking to locate near Tuscola instead of into local streams.
Illinois and Iowa are in a bidding war for the fertilizer production facility, Cronus Chemical. State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, said he is working on an incentive package to lure the company to Illinois.
At a minimum, the $1.2 billion project would require between 1,200 and 1,500 construction jobs, and the Cronus plant would provide about 250 permanent full-time employees.
"This would be a huge investment for our community," Brown said.
He said details of the incentive package are being held confidential during negotiations, but that it would provide a number of property tax abatements and other tax exemptions to Cronus Chemical.
"I can say it's competitive with Iowa's proposal, which is about $35 million," Brown said.
Where the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District comes in is that the fertilizer producer would need about 6.4 million gallons of water per day in its manufacturing process. Instead of drawing clean drinking water, a consultant for Cronus Chemical has asked the sanitary district for a direct flow of treated wastewater.
The sanitary district operates two sewage treatment plants — one in Champaign and one in Urbana. The Champaign plant discharges about 6 million gallons of treated wastewater per day into the Copper Slough, and the Urbana plan sends about 15 million gallons per day into the Saline Branch, according to a memo distributed by sanitary district Executive Director Rick Manner at a sanitary district board meeting Thursday.
Cronus' request could be fulfilled by a direct pipeline from either sanitary district plant, although the plant in southwest Champaign is more likely to be the preferred option, according to the memo.
That would, however, significantly reduce the flow of water into either — potentially both — the Copper Slough and the Saline Branch.
Traci Barkley, a water resources scientist with the Prairie Rivers Network, told sanitary district board members on Thursday that her agency thinks the plan is a bad idea. Water is becoming more scarce and people are drawing drinking water from the Mahomet Aquifer faster than it is being recharged, she said.
Water tables are dropping, she added, and without flows from wastewater treatment plants, the health of the area's streams and rivers would be much worse.
"We're concerned that UCSD can become part of the problem, not part of the solution," Barkley said.
Sanitary board President Diana Lenik assured Barkley that board members have only just begun to hear about the proposal and that they have yet to be swayed one way or another.
"This is so early on that we're really just getting information," Lenik said.
More information sharing between the district and the public could be forthcoming.
"We would certainly be open to a hearing, as long as it's done in an organized way," Lenik said.
The Cronus proposal is one of two wastewater deals the sanitary district is considering.
Manner said the district has been in discussions with Sunrise Coal LLC about its proposed Vermilion County mine to guarantee a flow from its Urbana plant into the Saline Branch. Sunrise officials have said they need 325,000 to 540,000 gallons per day for their proposed Bulldog coal mine.
Manner said the district is sensitive to the fact that, although the flow of water that it discharges to the creeks is a somewhat unnatural one, aquatic species and canoers have come to expect it to be there. He said the flow from the Urbana plant has been there for 90 years and for 50 years from the Champaign plant.
"Is that a good thing, because we are getting good use out of the water or bad because it's no longer going in the creek?" Manner said. "Overall, I think it's a good thing, because it's getting reuse out of the water."
But at the same time, he said, the district also realizes the Salt Fork river habitat contains endangered mussels and fish.
"So we are quite sensitive to the idea that we do owe some water to the Salt Fork and Saline Branch due to the habitat," Manner said. "And there is a legacy of us discharging there and some value to that baseline that we provide."
He added that the Copper Slough is more like an agricultural ditch, which does not have as much of a significant aquatic habitat downstream.