Waterloo Waste Water Treatment Plant

The Waterloo Waste Water Treatment plant as photographed by a drone.

WATERLOO — A new report indicates Waterloo could see significant cost savings by regionalizing its wastewater treatment plant.

But the project hinges on whether neighboring Cedar Falls is willing to mothball its own plant and pipe sewage to Waterloo for treatment.

“From Waterloo’s point of view, if we’re not paying 100 percent of our operating costs and not paying 100 percent of all the capital costs, it will be less to our ratepayers to go with a regional wastewater system,” said Steve Hoambrecker, the city’s superintendent of waste management services.

Waterloo City Council members this week discussed the preliminary results of a study looking at whether the Waterloo treatment plant on Easton Avenue could handle sewage loads from Cedar Falls, Evansdale, Elk Run Heights, Raymond and Hudson.

“It is technically feasible to get their waste to the Waterloo wastewater treatment plant,” Hoambrecker said. “The Waterloo wastewater treatment plant would have the hydraulic and organic capacity to accommodate loads from the neighboring cities.”

Waterloo is required to complete approximately $100 million in upgrades to its treatment plant in coming years, largely to meet federal nutrient reduction requirements.

Hoambrecker said Waterloo sewer customers would likely be responsible for just $65 million of those costs if the other cities joined the regionalized plant and picked up the other $35 million, an amount based on each city’s proportionate waste streams.

The financial picture was more complicated for Cedar Falls and other communities.

The report notes Cedar Falls could avoid an estimated $76 million in upgrades to its own treatment plant by spending $50 million to connect its system to Waterloo. But there may not be savings if Cedar Falls must pick up part of the Waterloo plant upgrades.

Cedar Falls is currently evaluating those figures and other issues related to its treatment plant.

Elk Run Heights and Raymond are working to replace their joint treatment plant. Evansdale is also looking at costly plant upgrades but has indicated little interest in joining Waterloo’s plant in the past. Hudson is under no immediate deadlines for plant improvements.

“Everybody needs to take a look at the two options they’ve got,” Hoambrecker said. “Is it going to be more financially favorable for them to stay independent and do things on their own? Or is it going to be better to join the regional wastewater plant?”

But Hoambrecker said Waterloo and Cedar Falls are the key players in whether the process moves ahead.

Along with the engineering and financial hurdles, the cities would need to address political hurdles, which include how a regional plant would be governed. Waterloo could continue to own and operate the plant or it could follow Des Moines’ lead and have the plant overseen by a regional authority.

“There’s still a lot of pieces to come together before this can become a reality,” Hoambrecker said.

Waterloo City Council representative Sharon Juon called the prospect of a regional plant “exciting.”

“I’ve been wanting some joint projects between the cities for a long time,” Juon said. “I think the citizens of all the communities would be very supportive to see such a cooperative effort.”

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