Elm Hills: Restoring a safe, sustainable water infrastructure for nearly 1,000 Missourians

Synopsis

For more than a decade, water and wastewater systems serving nearly 1,000 central-Missouri residents in the State Park Village and the Shriners Golf Course residential communities (formerly operated by Missouri Utilities Company) were in an utter state of disrepair. The dangerous conditions saddled residents with countless public health hazards, as confirmed by the fines and sanctions imposed by the State of Missouri. In 2018, Central States Water Resources (CSWR) purchased the systems — forming the Elm Hills Utility Operating Company — and after collaborating with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and key stakeholders, initiated an overhaul of the systems. The effort restored the community’s water infrastructure to MDNR standards, fostered new investment into the communities, and most importantly, ensured the health and safety of the residents by providing fundamentally essential safe and reliable water resources.

Part 1: The Shriners Golf Course Community

SITUATION ANALYSIS

Home to some 700 residents, the Shriners Golf Course residential community is situated just south of Sedalia, Missouri. In 2006, after being abandoned by its original owner, the neighborhood’s water utility infrastructure was cited for chronic violations and health hazards, and placed into state-appointed receivership. Among other issues:

  • As per MDNR regulations, the system was not removing environmentally harmful contaminants (BOD5, TSS, NH3, and fecal coliform), all of which were being discharged into public waters without a valid permit for more than five years;
  • The Shriners Golf Course dammed a creek to create a water feature, but because of the unprocessed wastewater upstream, the new feature became a sewage pond;
  • Raw sewage, including human waste, continually spilled onto the Shriners Golf Course;
  • Excessive sludge build-up in the lagoon reduced the wastewater treatment capacity by more than 50 percent; and
  • Rainwater collected in the sewage system, which caused residents’ basements to flood with untreated sewage.

In addition to wastewater malfunction, the community’s drinking water had reached an acute health risk state:

  • It was serviced by a single groundwater well (which is a violation, as communities of this size are required to have two sources of water) that pumped directly into a 1929-era rail tanker car that, through neglect, had accumulated four inches of rust sludge in the base;
  • A lack of adequate mapping and domestic water meters prevented the community from locating damaged water mains; and
  • An exposed wellhead was cited as potentially enabling toxic chemicals to penetrate the community’s water supply.

CSWR ACQUISITION AND REVITALIZATION

After receiving approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission and MDNR, CSWR immediately initiated a $1 million overhaul of the community’s water and sewerage systems, with upgrades including:

  • Renovating the lagoons to capture the full capacity of the system and prevent overflows
  • Installing a new bioreactor to process ammonia in wastewater
  • Using ultraviolet sanitation technology to remove E. coli from the wastewater that is then discharged into public waters
  • Running a water main to bordering Sedalia to serve as an emergency water supply
  • Sealing the exposed wellhead to prevent toxic chemical exposure
  • Completely refurbishing the tanker car and coating it to prevent rusting, which allows it to continue to serve the community with water storage

Part 2: State Park Village

SITUATION ANALYSIS

In 2018, some 180 families relied upon the wastewater treatment system in State Park Village (SPV) — a community bordering Knob Noster State Park near Warrensburg — despite the system being equipped to serve fewer than 100 residences. SPV’s wastewater was treated by a small, poured-in-place, modified, extended aeration plant that used a floating, unapproved lagoon aerator to add oxygen to the plant, had a bar screen in the headworks, and used a chlorination system on the outfall for disinfection. SPV had been cited by MDNR and the Missouri Department of Conservation due to four primary public safety violations:

  • SPV’s overloaded wastewater treatment system was discharging waste into a receiving stream that created a 2,000-foot “sludge blanket” containing bloodworms into a Knob Noster State Park recreational waterway
  • The plant was dramatically undersized and incapable of treating peak and even daily usage for wastewater contaminants
  • The system had exposed sewer conveyance lines, one of which was latched to an aging guardrail suspended over a road that had been washed out by a lake failure
  • An improperly designed disinfecting system allowed pathogen-laden waste to discharge into public waters

CSWR ACQUISITION AND REVITALIZATION
With public health and legal ramifications at stake, CSWR developed a comprehensive strategy to quickly and efficiently restore SPV’s wastewater system. It included:

  • Building a flow equalization tank, allowing for the moderation of wastewater flow
  • Gutting the wastewater plant and replacing the aeration
  • Installing a fixed-film system and ultraviolet treatment to process ammonia and E. coli in wastewater
  • Eliminating the “sludge blanket” in the public waterway
  • Rerouting the sewer piping system to circumvent a washed out road
  • Adding a filter screen between the water tank and wastewater plant.

Elm Hills Results

The transition to the newly created Elm Hills Utility Operating Company was not just a nominal change; it was a tangible one for both the Shriners Golf Course and State Park Village communities. Upon completion of CSWR’s improvement efforts, the communities witnessed a dramatic transformation in the quality and integrity of their water and wastewater systems. The 11-month undertaking not only liberated the communities’ water and wastewater systems from their regulatory and legal troubles, it also — more importantly — ensured the health and safety of the communities.

Elm Hills has since been approached by two real estate developers seeking to build a property line adjacent to Knob Noster Park, a development that would have been previously impossible, and the repairs made to the water and wastewater systems brought the communities up to compliance with all MDNR and Missouri Department of Conservation public safety standards.