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CSI Helps Stevenson Discover Innovative Solution to Wastewater Dilemma

By Leana Johnson, City of Stevenson & Kari Fagerness, Skamania EDC

The City of Stevenson, WA and The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) recently organized a Value Planning workshop to explore alternative strategies for solving a major wastewater challenge facing the community. In order to stop violating its discharge permit, this city of less than 2,000 was facing a cost of over $12 million for treatment plant upgrades. So they asked for our help to identify a portfolio of smaller-scale targeted solutions that could achieve the needed regulatory results for the same or lower cost, while adding substantially more value to the community.

In February of 2016 the City of Stevenson began the process of updating its General Sewer Plan and Wastewater Facilities Plan.  This update was triggered by an increase in organic waste —Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS). This eventually led to an Administrative Order being issued in June of 2017 by the Department of Ecology with one major message: Increase the capacity of the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP).  The price tag for this increased capacity is estimated at $14M.   The financial burden we are faced with is crushing for our community of 1,560, with only 436 sewer connections and 25% of our residents at or below the poverty line.

The City created the Stevenson Waste Water Clarifiers Committee to engage the community stakeholders in the process and to rebuild the trust that was lost through the plan update process.  The Committee members are a combination of business representatives, high BOD strength dischargers, councilmembers, members of the community, the Port of Skamania and the Skamania County Economic Development Council (EDC).  It is the city’s partnership with the EDC that led to the connection with the Economic Development Administration (EDA) and ultimately the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) for help on exploring alternative solutions.

The EDC was introduced to CSI and their efforts through a connection made with an EDA representative at a Washington State conference.  The EDA representative indicated that they provided CSI a grant to assist communities with their infrastructure challenges.  After a meeting between the  CSI, Port of Skamania, EDC, and the City, the consensus was to leverage the Department of Ecology grant opportunity for a value planning design charrette for the Stevenson wastewater system upgrades.  Our hope was that this process would result in the following outcomes:

  • Bring the City, residents, local industries and businesses together.

  • Build buy-in, inclusion and consensus on a way forward.

  • Right-size the solution and look at the system holistically rather than within the WWTP boundaries.

  • Ensure long-term permit compliance for the WWTP.Fiscally sustainable solutions for the community.

Planning for the workshop began almost immediately and included gathering together a group of participants that would represent the many stakeholders involved.  The list of participants invited included the Waste Water Clarifiers Committee (which included all of the presumed significant industrial users within the current WWTP system), members of the Department of Ecology, representatives from the contracted plant operators, community members, and the EDA.  One goal was to get a diverse group of people to look at the challenge from many different angles.  Another goal of the value planning exercise was to build trust between the city and community.

Prior to the value planning workshop the various community stakeholders and the CSI team toured the treatment plant as well as several other businesses that contribute significant loads based on their commercial and industrial uses. The tours were followed by a social hour at Skamania Lodge which gave everyone an opportunity to meet the team.

The workshop began with an overview of the goals and objectives along with a discussion about value planning and setting expectations for the participants. The rest of the morning was spent “Priming the Pump” through the creation of an Idea box that housed multiple brainstorming lists that included 1) Resources Inside/Outside, 2) New Building Blocks, 3) Constraints (real or perceived), and 4) Levers for Change. The group was able to identify some key themes and develop propelling questions that ultimately lead to creating success criteria for the project.  During lunch, the CSI team, aided by the EDC and City staff, was able to group the entire list of propelling questions into 5 main categories and the afternoon was dedicated to creating a thoughtful collection of potential solutions. This culminated in a series of really interesting pitch presentations by each group outlining the possible solutions that met the success criteria.

Ultimately, this value planning workshop received a wildly positive response from everyone involved for many reasons, but the main ones were: 1) it allowed the city and the community to work together to find possible solutions, 2) it created a real sense of empowerment within the community about the project, and 3) it generated real, practical solutions for the community and city to move forward with. Read the full value planning report!

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