Hillcrest, Missouri: ensuring clean and safe water for a sustainable future

Synopsis

Prior to 2014, the water and sewer systems of the Hillcrest community in Missouri were in a complete state of disrepair, rife with state health and safety violations as well as potentially life-threatening pathogens. After 40 years of neglect and mismanagement, Central States Water Resources (CSWR) sought to acquire Hillcrest’s water and wastewater facilities — and even prior to finalizing the acquisition — began an extensive six-month, $1.2 million overhaul of Hillcrest’s drinking water and waste treatment systems. The effort ultimately improved the health and safety standards for Hillcrest’s residents, elevated property values, and lured new investment into the subdivision, with 15 new lots developed since the acquisition.

Situation Analysis

In 2014, residents of the Hillcrest Subdivision (which is located two miles outside of Cape Girardeau, Missouri) were issued an eight-week continuous water boil order from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) after E. coli and high turbidity levels were found in the community’s drinking water. These contaminants were escalating health issues among residents.

A general enforcement action from the Missouri attorney general against Hillcrest’s wastewater treatment plant also stopped national mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from loaning against homes in Hillcrest. This, along with other factors, effectively made it next to impossible for residents to sell their homes.

Hillcrest’s drinking water plant and wastewater lagoon treatment plant – which were previously managed by Brandco Investments – had not been upgraded since the subdivision was first developed in 1973. And, as a result of that neglect, MoDNR formally cited numerous regulatory violations against Brandco for hazards including:

  • Located in a known earthquake zone, the unsecured fresh water tank at the front of a subdivision was seated on top of a concrete slab and dangerously attached only by cables tied to a series of stakes. The tank’s roof had unsealed openings, allowing bird feces and other pathogens to directly contaminate the community’s drinking water, which tested positive for E. coli.
  • The well house vent screen was rusted and dilapidated, allowing outside contamination into the water plant.
  • The wellhead casing was unsealed, which allowed pathogens to come into direct contact with drinking water and the actual well supplying the drinking water.
  • The water system only had six hours worth of backup drinking water (compared to the MoDNR-required 24-hour amount), and this caused frequent service disruptions.
  • The wastewater lagoons’ earthen berms were failing and in danger of collapsing, which breached the sides of the system and discharged untreated waste with human pathogens into a nearby stream.
  • The wastewater treatment lagoons’ aeration equipment failed, which prevented the lagoon from providing basic treatment.
  • The lagoons were not designed to remove wastewater nutrients and instead released harmful pollutants into the nearby stream.
  • The sanitary sewer collection and distribution system had serious infiltration and inflow issues, causing untreated waste to discharge into the receiving stream during rain events.Additionally, Brandco’s owner (a retired manufacturing employee who had been certified as a water systems owner) attempted to disinfect the water with a makeshift chlorinator that included unsafe bleach, which exacerbated the hazard and endangered the community.

CSWR Acquisition and Revitalization

CSWR applied to acquire Hillcrest’s Brandco-managed wastewater treatment plant in 2014, but began remediation efforts before the acquisition closed to ensure the health and safety of Hillcrest residents.

CSWR partnered with MoDNR to install a temporary mobile disinfecting system in order to get the community off the boil order, repaired and sealed the fresh water tank so that bird feces and other contaminants could no longer impact the water purity, and conducted regular tests to prevent further contamination from fecal matter and other pathogens — improvements initiated before CSWR’s acquisition was even complete.

MoDNR lauded CSWR’s efforts before they owned the property.

“I would like to commend you for your efforts and attention to the water system in providing safe, potable water for the public to drink,” said MoDNR environmental engineer Michael Wyatt. “I would also like to thank Mr. Josiah Cox, Mr. Ben Kuenzel, Mr. Brian Strickland and Mr. Terry Brady for their time and assistance during the inspection.”

After receiving approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission, CSWR continued its $1.2 million overhaul of Hillcrest’s water systems, investing in both in clean drinking water systems and wastewater facilities. CSWR’s upgrades to the subdivision included:

  • The construction of a new, 58,000-gallon bolted steel water tank that meets the Cape Girardeau area’s seismic requirements.
  • Meeting the 24-hour emergency water storage requirement.
  • Refurbishing the hydropneumatic tank to meet MoDNR and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations.
  • The revitalization of yard piping and the wellhead to ensure structural integrity.
  • Rebuilding the drinking water wellhead to ensure a safe supply.
  • Rebuilding the entire well house (including a complete roof replacement and the addition of a new, separate clean room for disinfection equipment).
  • Repairing the sewer collection system to remove sources of infiltration and inflow, which helps to prevent rainfall from causing any untreated waste discharge events.
  • Completely rebuilding the lagoon berms to stop short-circuiting and prevent structural collapse.
  • Building a new moving bed bio-reactor (MBBR), making Hillcrest the first area in the United States to have this cutting-edge technology to treat lagoon waste for nutrient removal.

Within six months, CSWR salvaged and dramatically revitalized Hillcrest’s water and wastewater facilities, which had previously endured a quarter-century of neglect.


Hillcrest Results

Following CSWR’s acquisition and revitalization of Hillcrest’s water treatment systems, the community saw tangible benefits including:

  • Fifteen new residential lots added to the community (which was a huge improvement, as prior to 2014, Hillcrest could not expand, and residents could not sell their homes because of fines and sanctions imposed by MoDNR as a result of these issues).
  • Sewer bills that were lower than the neighboring city of Gordonville, which relied on public grant funding to improve its water treatment systems.
  • The restoration of safe and reliable water by removing pathogens from the drinking water and from the adjoining community waterways.

“The drinking water supply has shown great improvement and appears to be very well operated and maintained,” said MoDNR environmental engineer Michael Wyatt. “All personnel involved are to be commended for their efforts.”

Upon Acquisition

  • Numerous state safety and health violations.
  • Residents unable to sell homes.
  • Quarter-century without investment in systems.
  • Community-wide boil order.
  • Waste discharging in nearby creek.

Achievements

  • Boil order lifted.
  • Brought systems into full MoDNR compliance.
  • E. coli removed from drinking water.
  • Homeowners able to sell properties.
  • New development begun.