Village faces challenges with aging water distribution and sewage treatment systems

man and woman look into sewer plant operation
New York State Assemblymember Carrie Woerner tours the village sewage treatment plant and gets a firsthand look at the challenges the village faces as it looks to upgrade the aging facility built in 1991. Here, Woerner gets an overview of the plant operations from village Engineer Ed Hernandez.

Last spring, the Village of Stillwater celebrated its 200th birthday as residents beamed with pride in their historic roots, ringing in the bicentennial.

But with age comes challenges, as older municipalities struggle to keep their aging infrastructures fresh and operational. That task can be costly as village officials are finding out with their dated water distribution and sewage treatment systems.

Despite closing the village water plant in recent years and spending millions to upgrade the underground sewer piping and pump stations to meet a New York State consent order (see history below), necessary repairs and upgrades to the nearly 30-year-old sewage treatment plant are not far off.

The water distribution system that carries the village drinking supply from the Saratoga County Water Authority to village homes has seen better days as well. Piping dates back to the 1930s, and one of Stillwater’s two water storage tanks at Hillside is more than 80 years old and in crucial need of replacement. Repairs are needed to maintain the water supply to the village and meet emergency fire demands.

water flows into a tank at sewer plant
Water flows through the village waste water treatment plant

Village engineers estimate replacing the 200,000-gallon Hillside water tank and an outdated water supply line will cost about $650,000. The village has budgeted 20 percent of the money but is short about $520,000.

At the village sewer plant, built around 1990 and approaching 30 years of continuous service, much of the operational equipment will soon require upgrades and repairs to maintain compliance with regulatory standards. Those upgrades are needed in the areas of aeration and filtration, sewer clarifiers and screening, electrical and alarm systems, and more. Engineers estimate future sewer plant repairs at more than $1 million, with the village having about an $810,000 budget shortfall to complete its checklist.

Rather than borrow the money for water and sewer repairs as it did to repair the sewer lines under the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation consent order, the village has been looking into grant money to finance the outstanding share of the cost. Thus far the village has been unsuccessful.

Two attempts for state funding in 2015 and 2016 to replace the water tank and water line under the New York State Infrastructure Improvement Act have been rejected. The municipal improvement grants are very competitive with applications submitted by cities, town and villages ranked again one another based on the most need. While the Village of Stillwater has an obvious need for the funding, other municipal projects have scored higher because circumstances may be more urgent there, said village Engineer Ed Hernandez.

“That’s frustrating to say the least but you have to keep plugging along,” Hernandez said.

With still no additional funding for the water system improvements in sight, the village is now faced with these future sewer plant upgrades and discussed its options at the October meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Engineers told village officials that alternative financing may be available through the State and Municipal Facilities Program for Capital Projects, a state initiative that sets aside funds at the discretion of local state legislators through member item requests from cities, towns and villages each state budget session.

With that in mind, Mayor Rick Nelson invited Stillwater state Assemblymember Carrie Woerner to tour the sewer plant and get a firsthand look at what the village is facing. Woerner accepted that invitation and went on the tour at the end of October.

”Being proactive is how we want to attack this,” Mayor Nelson told Woerner. “You can’t be successful (in getting state money) unless you ask so we’re glad you are here.”

Obtaining grant money under this particular program can be time intensive and uncertain, Woerner explained, “but knowing you have a need here puts you in the mix,” she said. “I don’t have an answer, we’ll have to see how the next state budget goes.”

In the meantime, Woerner recommended village officials continue to “work the grant process and see what happens. Eventually you may find success.”

A brief history of the Village of Stillwater’s sewer system and most recent upgrades

(The following history of the Village of Stillwater’s sewer system is provided by former Trustee John Basile, who spent many years overseeing the village’s most recent water and sewer improvements before retiring from the board in 2015. For a host of stories overviewing water and sewer improvements as they happened please visit the website news archives).

Prior to 1939, the Village of Stillwater did not have a sewer system. At that time, sanitary discharges from homes and businesses were made either into the Hudson River or into crude private septic systems.

That same year following our nation’s Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps was encamped in the village.

One of this public work relief program projects under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal initiative was to build a municipal waste water treatment system which would include a collection system throughout the village and piping to a municipal sewage treatment plant.

In those days, the sewage collecting piping was made of vitreous clay tile, which has joints that over time can leak or have tree roots penetrate that make the clay pipes crack. In addition, much of the village has a high water table and some areas are subject to periodic flooding. These two factors subjected the village sewage system to high ground water infiltration, forcing the plant to treat additional clean water that under heavy rain would overload the treatment system.

This problem came to a head in 2008 when the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ordered the village to address this water infiltration situation as well as water inflow. Inflow is when clean water is introduced into the system from such things as sump pumps, roof drains and foundation drains.

It is illegal for sump pumps and these drains to discharge into the municipal sewer. So the village Department of Public Works began an invesigation, using smoke test to uncover illegal connections. It took three years to inspect each building/house connected to the system. A number of illegal sump pumps were found and disconnected, and the village certified with NYS DED that all pumps had been removed.

That was only half the problem, however, addressing the water infiltration from the cracked clay piping was another matter. A technology that had come into general use in recent years to correct water infiltration is know as Insituform, which involves lining sewer pipes with an epoxy coating that is installed as a long sock into the clay tile pipe between sewer manholes.

Once installed, the sock is expanded with air and cured with steam forming a structure and lining against the wall of the clay tile piping. This process strengthens the clay tile, covering all joints and providing a smoother surface for the sewage to flow through the pipe.

This Insituform work was completed in the village in 2014 by a contractor specializing in this technology. Over more than two years some 15,000 feet of clay tile was lined eliminating a great deal of water infiltration and adding up to 40 years of life to the sewer collection piping.

Next the village made upgrades to six sewer pumping stations that send the waste to the sewage treatment plant, and eliminated one station no longer needed. As part of those upgrades, the DPW now has the ability to monitor the performance of each pumping station and quickly identify malfunctions.

The following year, other improvements were made to some of the equipment at the waste water treatment plant, which was built in 1991 to replace the original Civilian Conservation Corps facility.

The entire cost of the village’s multi-year sewer system upgrades are about $3.7 million. Funds for the project were obtained through application to the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation. That loan was replaced in 2016 with a 30-year EFC interest free loan, which is paid back out of the sewer budget through village sewer taxes.

During the course of the project the original loan for the 1991 waste water treatment plant construction was paid off. The plant, however, more than 25 years later is in need of repairs and upgrades to function properly into the future.