SAN TAN VALLEY — When Johnson Utilities announced in June that it would close the troubled Section 11 wastewater treatment plant and construct a Copper Basin Water Reclamation Plant, local activists expressed skepticism. It has now become clear the plant won’t close anytime soon.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has posted a notice that Johnson Utilities has applied for a permit to expand capacity at the Section 11 plant within the bounds of its current property.

ADEQ has made significant amendments to the permit, requiring the utility to take further steps to mitigate the release of the toxic gas hydrogen sulfide, which has long saddled the facility with a monitoring control system.

ADEQ had added three additional hydrogen sulfide monitors as well as system or similar technology called OMI vapor phase systems, which would be activated once the monitors registered excess hydrogen sulfide levels. The system actually removes the gas from the air by releasing water droplets that “contain a thin oil skin that creates an electrostatic charge. This charge causes adsorption of the malodor molecules onto the droplet surface. The gas is absorbed by the droplet (solubility) and held,” according to odormanagement.com, which markets the technology.”

Members of the advocate group United Citizens, made up of residents who live near the plant and who have worked to pressure local politicians and state agencies to take action to resolve its ongoing problems, say the measures don’t go far enough to address problems at the plant.

In a report on the issues with ADEQ’s proposed amendment they write “JU’s own expert consultant (James Taylor of GHD) testified under oath at the ACC hearing on May 1, 2018, that to properly conduct an H2S assessment it would take 20-40 monitors around the entire facility to get an accurate reading.” They also criticize the amendment’s plan to place all of the monitors on the south side of the facility.

ADEQ is also requiring Johnson Utilities to submit a closure plan for Section 11 by June 5, 2019, since it announced in a press release that it would be closing it. The permit would not allow Section 11 to take in additional flows but increases its capacity to work on the flows it currently takes in.

One of the contributing factors to both the sewage overflows and hydrogen sulfide generation is the length of time the waste is allowed to remain sitting in the pipes going into the plant. The lack of oxygen in the pipes leads bacteria to create hydrogen sulfide. Minimizing the time waste spends with the increased capacity, the permit should reduce both overflows and hydrogen sulfide discharges.

However, activists remain skeptical of allowing Johnson Utilities to expand a plant that has caused so much trouble for neighboring residents.

The public can submit comments at http://azdeq.gov/node/5090l. Public hearings will be held in Florence at the community center at 778 N. Main St. on Wednesday, Aug. 8, at noon and 5:30. There will also be a hearing on Aug. 9 at noon and 5:30 at Central Arizona College’s San Tan Campus, 3736 E. Bella Vista Road.

Johnson Utilities also has been the subject of hearings before the Arizona Corporation Commission, which is considering taking over the company through appointment of an interim manager.

Johnson Utilities wastewater treatment

A Johnson Utilities wastewater treatment plant in San Tan Valley has been the source of many complaints over the odor that has made its way into housing areas. The utility is now planning to expand the plant.

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