Princeton water quality could go down the tubes if residents don’t stop dumping harmful chemicals into the wastewater system.

The city of Princeton is asking residents to be careful about what they dump down the drain, because something is hurting the wastewater treatment plant’s capacity for cleaning water. Twice recently, once on Feb. 22 and again on March 1, the plant was hit by a mystery chemical, according to city documents.

“The chemical they’re dumping down is messing with our bacteria,” plant manager Chris Klinghagen said. “So what that means is the bacteria which cleans the water isn’t necessarily cleaning the water anymore.”

Staff at the treatment plant have observed cloudy water and foaming bubbles, which indicated a problem. Along with that, the thrice-weekly tests they perform on the water are showing higher than normal levels of phosphorus and total suspended solids, Klinghagen said.

“So that’s a big indicator that something’s wrong,” Klinghagen said.

The bacteria is important because it consumes waste suspended in the water, according to Klinghagen.

“These bacteria eat everything and then they settle out,” Klinghagen said.

The dumped chemicals harm the wastewater system and requires the city to add extra chemicals to settle out solids and order extra testing, which incurs a greater cost to the city. The dumping also could hurt the water quality of the river, according to a draft of the letter sent to businesses.

So far it is unclear what chemical is being dumped. Tests on the water have been inconclusive, but Klinghagen suspects it is some kind of cleaning chemical, he said.

The City Council approved sending notification letters out to local businesses during a March 4 study session, reminding them that only water, human waste and biodegradable toilet paper should be put into the system. Based on the volume of water in the facility, the city is assuming whatever chemical is being dumped is either particularly strong or there’s a large amount of it, according to Klinghagen.

“That’s why we assume it’s probably a business,” Klinghagen said.

Klinghagen said the city just wants to help whoever is dumping the chemical properly dispose of whatever it is that’s hurting the treatment facility’s bacteria. He urges anyone who is uncertain if they can dump something down the drain to contact the wastewater treatment plant and ask. The facility can be reached by calling 763-389-3574.

Repairs and upgrades

The City Council also recently approved a couple of improvements to the wastewater treatment system during a March 11 meeting, including new roofs and changing communications services at pump stations.

Council members approved a $22,549.28 repair to two roofs of the buildings at the wastewater treatment plant. Glue holding the membrane of the roof on is deteriorating.

Princeton had about $26,000 budgeted in the Capital Improvement Plan for the repairs. The low bid allowed the city to use some of that money for upgrading all nine lift stations in the city. Lift stations are pumps in the wastewater system that raise water to a higher elevation so it can continue to flow down sewage pipes.

The lift stations will be switching their communications services from Verizon to FirstNet with AT&T, which was approved by the council March 11 for a cost of $3,053, according to City Clerk Shawna Jenkins. The stations had been connected using Verizon, but with the installation of a new AT&T tower, the switch will save the city money and, hopefully, maintain better connection, according to Klinghagen.

Princeton currently pays $225 per month for all nine lift stations, but that will drop to $170 per month with the switch, Klinghagen said during the meeting. The connection is important for monitoring the well-being of the wastewater system.

“If there’s a problem, the lift stations call out,” Klinghagen said. “Like if there’s a sewer backup, these lift stations call out and tell us that there’s a high level, or a pump has failed, or something like that.”

The switch may come as soon as the end of the month, but the installation should not interrupt any services to residents.

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