If you only read the first sentence of articles, let me say this: the Sioux City Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), which processes what you flush down the toilet and what all our industries wash down their drains, is in dire need of renovation. In fact, previous circumstances have caused Sioux City to find itself in a lawsuit with the state of Iowa and under scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Natural Resources. The situation is very serious, and something has to be done.
That’s why more than a year ago, on April 19, 2022, our staff met with Hazen. This professional firm specializes in the design and execution of wastewater treatment projects across the country. On April 26 of that year, a survey was sent to all Sioux City industries to ask for their pre-treatment plans and explain that we were evaluating a comprehensive facility plan for the WWTP. This evaluation would include an option to rebuild the existing plant, or build a brand-new state-of-the-art plant south of town.
After analyzing survey results, Hazen met with different council members to discuss their facility plan findings and analyze three alternative solutions, cost estimates, and timelines. There were options to place more responsibility for the updates on citizens or on industries. On November 16, the City Council opted for a 50-50 split. After determining a new facility would be nearly $1 billion, the City Council also opted to rebuild the existing plant for less than half of that amount. On January 11 of this year, city staff held a mandatory industrial partner meeting to discuss the decisions that have been made. Finally, a presentation was made to the City Council and a first reading was past 4–0 –1, with the mayor abstaining.
After that initial first reading, additional conversations were had. Industries asked that rather than their full increase for the year take effect on July 1, they asked if they could have a slight increase on July 1 and the rest of the increase be moved to January 1, so that it would coincide with their budget cycle. Following that, the item was deferred and the ultimate passing of it extended multiple weeks to allow for additional conversation and exploration of funding sources.
What was unfortunate about the dialogue that ensued was the spreading of misinformation, exaggerations, raised voices, and misplaced anger. However, we were able to dredge through it and pass what will be a once-in-a-lifetime overhaul of the facility. Understanding that further discussion needs to take place during the design and execution of this plan, the City Council created a committee composed of city staff, our expert consultant, industry representatives, and citizens to meet monthly to continue the collaborative work necessary to ensure we learn from our mistakes of the past.
The WWTP needs an overhaul. We did our best to find the best in the business to give us a true estimate of what we were looking at and what our best options would be — in addition to what it will cost. Unfortunately to pay for what’s needed, rates will need to increase. Even after the increase, our rates are highly competitive—both for our industrial users and our residents. We all feel the pressure of the economy and increasing costs. The city is not immune to that. We need to put our egos aside and recognize that we are all on the same team and one that wants what’s best for Sioux City. Through collaboration and creative problem-solving, I am confident this will have us prepared to meet the challenges of today and the needs of the future.
By Alex Watters