State regulators are giving Snohomish the green light to improve its wastewater treatment instead of the city spending $44 million to connect to Everett's sewer system.
The state Department of Ecology sent word on Monday that it would extend the time Snohomish could operate its plant.
The city expects no sewer rate increases in the next three years as a result.
"We would have had fairly massive increases otherwise," City Manager Larry Bauman said.
Ratepayers were facing increases of just over 14 percent a year through 2016 to connect to Everett's sewer system, he said. The decision gives Snohomish more control over future rates.
Just how much the upgrades Snohomish plans will cost remains unknown. The city expects to study different aspects of the system before determining which repairs to make.
"We're talking about a total cost of a few million dollars as opposed to $44 million," Bauman said.
Ecology department spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder said regulators granted the extension to allow Snohomish more time to address problems with its lagoon system. The city, she said, needs to come into compliance to show it can properly disinfect waste before discharging into the Snohomish River. It needs to effectively
manage sludge and prevent flooding.
The city has already had some success in making improvements, she said.
Snohomish racked up 109 environmental violations from 2006 to 2009. The city has reduced that to seven in the last four years through improvement projects.
Snohomish was the only plant statewide to implement what it calls "bacteria hotels" to eliminate pollutants, according to Bauman.
The city also reduced overflows into the river from 100 incidents to just one in the last three years through stormwater separation.
Now, the city is working on a plan to separate storm and wastewater in the historic parts of Snohomish. It intends to fill the abandoned lagoon on the west side of town with the stormwater to create a bird refuge.
"It's going to be just wonderful," Mayor Karen Guzak said. "We can be in the sewer business and we can manage it appropriately."
Ecology officials said a decision on the city's long-term wastewater treatment options will depend on if Snohomish meets the environmental milestones in the plan.
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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