Denham Springs officials are in a race against developers to expand the city’s wastewater treatment facility before the system gets overwhelmed with raw sewage.

Built six years ago, the facility on Forrest Delatte Road can handle 4 million gallons of wastewater a day. When it opened in 2009, the site was processing 1.8 million gallons, but the rate has risen to about 2.8 million gallons daily, said Denham Springs Public Works Director Tom Walton.

In its last meeting, the City Council took the first step toward upgrading the plant by seeking grant money to fund the design of an expansion. Mayor Gerard Landry favors mirroring the facility, which would double the plant’s capacity. Walton expects it to cost about $19 million. The city may settle on a smaller expansion, though.

The plant handles wastewater not just for the city, but for the Denham Springs Sewerage District beyond the city limits and other clients such as the mall — and eventually the homes — at Juban Crossing.

“Juban Crossing wouldn’t even be there right now … if this plant hadn’t been built,” Walton said.

As Livingston Parish continues to grow, developers will favor locations where they can connect to the sewer system. Walton rattled off a list of projects either in talks or in the works, including several hotels, two apartment complexes, four subdivisions, some restaurants and more businesses south of the interstate.

If they all went online today, the plant would hit capacity, Landry said.

“We need to start looking at (breaking ground on an expansion) soon,” he said, saying it would need to happen before the end of his term in four years.

Meanwhile, the Sewerage District board — composed of the City Council members, mayor and one parish councilwoman — has its eye on laying a new line for the first time since the district was created in 2009, around the time the new plant was built.

The DSSD has applied for its own grant to design and get a cost estimate for an extension of the line south on 4-H Club Road from the current terminus near Ferry Landing Drive to a new subdivision near Hillon Hood Road.

District Chairwoman Lori Lamm-Williams is interested in further expanding the system and specifically mentioned looking in the area around Juban Road beyond Juban Crossing. The land lies outside her District, and the board would have to strike a deal with the parish to enter that area.

“Juban seems to be the hot number right now,” Landry said.

Further development along the thoroughfare will depend on access to sewer lines and the lack of those lines is “putting the chokehold on” further growth, the mayor said.

“It’s kind of like ‘Field of Dreams,’ you know? If you build it, they will come,” Landry said.

However the city plant would not be able to handle intake from the Juban Road area at present, and putting down lines will depend on upgrading the plant first, he said.

Whether from new developments inside the district or expansion outward, new customers will help the DSSD pay off the $2.8 million tab it had run up with the city as of June 2014, according to the most recent audit.

The district is able to make payments on its bond debt, utilities and other costs from month to month but relies on city employees to bill customers and service lines, said Denham Springs Financial Director Michelle Hood. The city pays those salaries, even when workers are conducting district business. Hood said there is no schedule for the DSSD to pay back the city, but neither is the city sending a collection agency after the district.

The third and final project discussed in recent meetings will send the former plant’s ponds in very different directions. Before the new facility was built, the sewage system depended on two 40-acre ponds that now have little use. The city has requested money to fill in one and possibly turn the other into a swamp.

The northern pond off Forrest Delatte Road would be available to development. Lamm-Williams wondered if a residential developer might be interested in buying it from the city, while Landry said some of his department heads wanted to move the city utilities’ headquarters to the site.

“The options are open,” Landry said.

Walton envisions the southern pond becoming a more hospitable site to the eagles and waterfowl he’s seen in the area. He would like to lower the water level and plant trees like cypresses and tupelos to convert the area into wetlands. Teams from LSU already visit the area to study the wildlife, and he would like the area to be more inviting to animals and the students who study them. To combat the swampy smell, the nearby plant could pump treated water through the wetlands, Walton said.

All three grants being sought — to design a new plant, to study the costs for an extension of the line on 4-H Club Road, and to reclaim the north pond and to study options for the south pond — are in the amount of $90,000 with a five percent local match. The city and sewerage district are looking to the Ponchartrain Restoration Program for the funding because the system’s water eventually drains into the lake.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.