To comply with state environmental regulations, the Regional Water Resource Agency is seeking substantial rate hikes to fund a roughly $100 million project to overhaul its wastewater treatment facilities.
Additionally, some of Owensboro’s major factories are obligated to make changes to help alleviate RWRA’s overburdened plants.
Two of RWRA’s biggest industrial companies, food producer Mizkan and Glenmore Distillery, told the Messenger-Inquirer that they’ve committed to investing a combined $34 million in improving their own pre-treatment facilities, which will reduce the strength of the wastewater they send to the agency’s plants.
The RWRA’s 20-year comprehensive master plan — which outlines how the agency expects to operate over the next two decades — includes details about why Mizkan and Glenmore have made those commitments.
According to the October 2020 master plan, the RWRA’s David Hawes treatment plant had regulatory compliance issues with the state for more than five years prior to when the report was issued.
The Messenger-Inquirer has previously reported on these compliance issues, which underpin the need for facilities upgrades.
“The majority of those concerns have been the result of [David Hawes plant] influent loadings being exceeded as a consequence of two industrial customers, Mizkan and Glenmore. The composition of waste from these customers creates dynamic variations in the [David Hawes plant’s] biological process that make staying in compliance very challenging,” the master plan said.
The report explained that “biochemical oxygen demand” — a measurement of the degree of organic pollution in a water source — was as much as 150% of the David Hawes plant’s design capacity in 2018 and 2019. This led to operational issues such as poor settleability, poor treatment, and effluent limit violations, the report said.
The report also explained that the David Hawes plant particularly struggled to treat the fats, oils and grease from Mizkan, as well as the high volatile fatty acids from Glenmore.
RWRA sent Mizkan and Glenmore at least three warning letters apiece for allegedly violating the conditions of their permits, but did not fine the companies, according to the master plan. Instead, the parties negotiated for the companies to upgrade their pre-treatment facilities to remove more fats, acids, and other materials from their wastewater before sending it to RWRA.
To that end, the companies say they have invested millions of dollars.
Glenmore told the Messenger-Inquirer that it invested $19 million in a pre-treatment plant, which should be operational by the end of the year — ahead of schedule, according to the company.
“Once RWRA informed The Glenmore Distillery that it no longer had the capacity to treat Glenmore’s raw wastewater, Glenmore worked alongside RWRA to devise a solution to maintain water quality standards.
As the long-term solution, Glenmore committed to building a state-of-the-art wastewater pre-treatment plant on its site that will pre-treat Glenmore’s industrial effluent below Glenmore’s wastewater permit limits,” Glenmore said in a written statement.
Likewise, Mizkan said it has invested $5 million in upgrades and earmarked another $10 million.
“In Phase 1 of our plan, Mizkan spent over $5 million to install new equipment and storage tanks that allow us to store a greater amount of wastewater on site, which can then be processed to better control the solids in the wastewater released to RWRA. Phase 1 took around 14 months and was recently completed,” Mizkan said in a written statement.
“Phase 2 of our plan has been approved and construction is expected to start by year-end. For this phase, Mizkan has earmarked another $10 million to install new equipment that will further process wastewater to separate fats, oils and grease before released to RWRA. We currently estimate this project will take about a year to complete.”
RWRA Executive Director Joe Schepers told the Messenger-Inquirer that his agency and local industries have a “long history” of working together to address issues such as the overburdened wastewater treatment plants.
“Glenmore Distillery and Mizkan, value their environmental responsibilities to our community and partner with RWRA in our vision of nurturing safe and healthy community waterways for future generations,” he said in a written statement.
But even though Glenmore and Mizkan’s improvements will help alleviate the burden on RWRA’s wastewater treatment plants, major upgrades are still required, according to the RWRA.
RWRA will provide a tour of the two plants — the David Hawes plant and the Max N. Rhoads water reclamation facility — on Sept. 19 as it prepares to present its proposed rate hikes to the Rate Review Board in December.
The planned rate hikes include a 31% increase that will take the average customer’s bill from $47.37 a month to $61,85 next July, followed by a 6% increase in 2024, back-to-back 4% increases in 2025 and 2026, and a 3% increase in 2027.