Talkeetna’s wastewater treatment plant, known as a sewage lagoon, can no longer keep up with the demand on the system.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough Public Works director Terry Dolan said the lagoon services about 200 accounts right now, and that’s not that many more than when it was constructed 30 years ago.

The problem now is the high volume of summer visitors overwhelming the system.

“That was an effective treatment method for Talkeetna for many years at the size that it was,” Dolan said.

Talkeetna had about 900 year-round residents counted during the 2010 census, but each year the tiny town is inundated with tourists. The Alaska Travel Industry Association reports the number of visitors went from 205,000 in 2011 to 239,000 in 2016.

The borough has made repairs to the water treatment facility, but Dolan said it’s time for a full upgrade.

“We saw the system really have a general failure in terms of its ability to treat for bacteria starting about four years ago,” he said.

That meant the sewage lagoon was discharging water into the Talkeetna River that didn’t meet state standards.

Last year, the borough agreed to pay about $60,000 in penalties from violations for having too much bacteria in the treated water. Part of its agreement with the Department of Environmental Conservation was to spend nearly $8 million in upgrades.

“It’s important that we put this plant upgrade in there because we certainly don’t want to put the environment at risk and we don’t want to put folks that use those waters at risk,” Dolan said.

Money tourists spend in town will be used to pay for the improvements after the city passed a 3% sales tax.

“That plant upgrade is going to include now chemical treatment of the effluent to kill bacteria. It’s a chlorination process then the effluent is dechlorinated before it’s released,” Dolan explained, adding it will also include a pre-treatment process to help the plant operate more efficiently.

This month, a crew is “desludging” the lagoon to remove the solids that settle to the bottom and take up space. It’s a $1.3 million operation that has to be done every decade.

Dolan said the new facility will make that process easier.

“Those cells are designed to take most of the solids out of the water before they ever get into the treatment cells,” he said.

Construction could begin as early as July and will go through the winter. The borough hopes to have the new facility online next year.

Correction: This story has been updated to include the word "effluent" where "affluent" was previously used incorrectly.

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