Walker’s sewer treatment system meets all standards required by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality despite aging equipment, some challenges with the city’s manhole system and excessive rainfall last year, the City Council learned during its June 14 meeting.

A lengthy discussion of the system was generated when Wendy Montalbano, the city’s water services and environmental compliance director, presented the annual Louisiana Municipal Water Pollution Prevention report required by the DEQ for the council’s approval. Cities must submit such a document on an annual basis.

Montalbano, who described the city’s sewage treatment plant as “aging,” added that through constant maintenance, the system is working as it should and it continues to serve the needs of the city. She said the last overhaul to the system was in 2012, when major upgrades to the network were completed.

“We are constantly looking to the future and considering other options on how to upgrade the system moving forward,” she said.

She said that by 2024 a new detailed evaluation of the system will have to be made and that plans for future upgrades on how sewer is handled will have to be studied. Montalbano said because of the COVID-19 pandemic, DEQ has placed even more requirements that cities must follow to remain in compliance.

A constant challenge is heavy rainfall that can cause infiltration of rainwater into the sewer system making the treatment process more difficult, Montalbano said. She said that last year Walker recorded 96.5 inches of rain and that this large amount of rain created challenges for the system. “We normally process about one-half million gallons of water a day but when we get three or more inches of rain, we have to process three million gallons of water a day and that is a challenge,” she said.

She said the city’s capacity for treating wastewater is adequate.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

Joining in the discussion, Chief of Staff Jamie Etheridge said one of the problems with the sewer system is the city’s drainage system. During heavy rains, he said, the water cannot drain quickly enough. Walker has approximately 650 manholes and the city has to work constantly to maintain those manholes to help stop the infiltration of water into the sewer system, he said. Over the past several months, the city has started installing new manhole covers that help stop the infiltration and this new technology holds promise, Etheridge said.

Montalbano said a recent problem has been obtaining replacement parts for the aging system. She said that when ordering parts, suppliers reply that they are no longer able to provide what is needed. Some replacement parts are being made by local machinists, she explained. A second problem is the “supply train,” she said, citing as an example that equipment needed for the disinfection system was not available because the replacement equipment was not shipped in a timely manner.

Despite the challenges, during the past year the city was able to extend the sewer system south of Interstate 12. Also, in 2021, the city increased the sewer connection fee to a minimum cost of $1,100 and added an impact fee of $1,750 per connection. The city uses a half-cent sales tax that raises about $1.4 million annually and this money is split between streets, drainage and wastewater infrastructure. “We are not making any money; we are just recovering our costs,” she said.

At the same meeting, the council approved a resolution setting the millage rate for the year at .002230 mills, the same as last year. Projected income from the tax for the coming year is $135,579, a projected increase of about $1,200. Walker derives much of its income from a sales tax and profits from its extensive natural gas supply system.

For the June meeting, he said the council’s employee recognition informational program, started in January, featured the city’s Public Works Department that includes the drainage, streets, municipal storm sewer and facility and maintenance departments.

Joe Macklin, who directs the Public Works Department, introduced all the workers who staff the various units that serve the city. “We have hired some young men and women to learn from our older, veteran employees and this has been a blessing," he said. "We are training competent, dedicated workers and equipment operators. As your director, I am supposed to encourage and inspire our crews … but it has been the other way around. Every day, they inspire me and keep me motivated. Our crews are always willing to go out and get the job done no matter the time of day or night,” he said.

The council also approved a resolution supporting the submittal of roadway improvements using matching funds through the Capital Region Planning Commission. Slated for improvements under the plan are the Carrol Avenue and Aydell Lane bridges and improvements to the La. 447 and U.S. 190 intersection to better facilitate traffic movement at this connection point. Etheridge said these improvements will help alleviate traffic accidents that have occurred at this intersection in the past. He said engineering studies on the projects have been completed and the three are now ready for construction.