Columbia, MO -- The city of Columbia will receive financial assistance, under the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Public Assistance Program, to replace parts of its Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant damaged by floods in May. On May 6, President Bush issued a disaster declaration for a number of Missouri counties as a result of the damages caused in the state by turbulent spring weather. On June 10, Boone County was named eligible for the Public Assistance program available as part of that declaration.
The replacement parts, however, are not metal, wood or electrical. They are plants-cattails to be specific, 110,000 of them. The cattails are the key functional element of an innovative, environmentally friendly system of "constructed wetlands" used to treat secondary effluent from the city's wastewater treatment plant.
In this "constructed wetlands" system, four separate treatment units are divided into "cells" of about five acres each. These shallow ponds (about 11/2' deep) are lined with a minimum of 12" of compacted clay to keep the wastewater from leaching out. Six to 12 inches of topsoil cover the clay, and the cattails are planted. Water flows in from the treatment plant, through the cells. The cattails provide a bio-media, an environment in which waste-destroying bacteria thrives. The long hollow cattail stalks bring oxygen into the water creating an aerobic environment to enhance the process.
May's heavy rains and flooding damaged many areas of the state, including the wetlands south of Columbia. Hydraulic pressure created by the saturated ground threatened to pop the cells of Unit 2 out of the ground. To equalize the pressure, plant officials flooded the cells for several days. Deprived of oxygen, about 22 acres of the waste-purifying plants, with approximately 5,000 plants per acre, died.
Under the Public Assistance program, affected local governments are eligible to apply for federal funds to pay 75 percent of the approved cost for debris removal, emergency services related to the disaster, and repairing or replacing damaged public facilities. This includes public utilities.
Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) administers the program and will provide another 10 percent of approved amount. The city of Columbia will pay the remaining 15 percent. A contractor will replace the waste-purifying plants on three lineal foot centers, throughout 22 acres of Unit 2. Approved eligible replacement costs are $77,000; the federal share is $57,750.
Completing the environmentally friendly cycle, 14 1/2 million gallons a day of treated waters are discharged into the Missouri Department of Conservation's Eagle Bluffs Wildlife Area. That water must meet the same Department of Natural Resources requirements as if it were going directly into the nearby Missouri river.
Developed at the same time that Columbia built its facility, Eagle Bluffs required a reliable source of water to maintain its own marshes and moist-soil ponds year round. The wildlife area's 1,300 acres of wetland surround the city's facility and provide habitat for many resident and migrating marsh and water birds. The MKT and KATY hiking and biking trails pass through the Wildlife Area giving bird watchers easy access. For more information on the Public Assistance program visit www.fema.gov. For information on the Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plant go to www.ci.columbia.mo.us/dept/pubw/sewer.htm.