Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Commissioner Joe Gehin’s employment and his company’s relationship to the city’s water project.

Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau Water Works Commission will develop criteria on hiring an additional engineering/consulting firm to treat and remove perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from the city’s drinking water systems.

Department of Public Works and Utility (DPW) staff will develop metrics for the selection criteria, which will be considered next week by the Commission. The group gave the DPW direction after watching presentations from six firms on how they will deal with the removal of PFAS.

Representatives from the firms – CDM Smith, Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions Inc., Shannon & Wilson, Tetra Tech, Geosyntec Solutions and AECOM – each presented proposals detailing how they would work with the city to treat and remove PFAS. All told the Commission members that they were well qualified to carry out the job.

Wausau is planning to engage an additional firm to speed up the treatment and removal of PFAS.

Commissioner Jim Force suggested that the city first identify its exact needs before choosing a firm, and then engage the firm that best addresses those needs.

Mayor Katie Rosenberg said she was impressed with some of the firms for their work in Wisconsin and their expertise on regulatory negotiations with state agencies, as well as their proposals to come up with cost-effective solutions. Commissioner John Robinson agreed, saying that expertise in regulatory framework in Wisconsin is important.

Another commissioner, Joe Gehin, suggested that the Commission should also discuss with the consultants hired the issue of conducting a pilot study on PFAS. Gehin, the city’s former Public Works Director, works for Becher Hoppe, a firm that is deeply involved in Wausau’s ongoing water treatment facility upgrades.

The city recently conducted voluntary testing of all municipal drinking water supply wells for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, and detected the chemicals at levels ranging from 23 to 48 parts per trillion (ppt). The levels exceed the proposed Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) future drinking water standard of 20 ppt, a level based on recommendations from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). All Wausau wells were above DHS recommendations, prompting the city to provide bottled water and filter pitchers to residents.

To compound the problem, the Drinking Water Treatment Facility, which is set to open this summer at a cost of about $120 million would be unable to remove the PFAS chemicals from the city’s drinking water system under its current design, though officials say that capability will be added, at additional expense.

The commission also approved recommendation from the Wausau Water Works staff to increase the funding amount by $1,000 to incentivize homeowners on lead line services. Currently, the City offers $3,000 to residents in street reconstruction areas and those with leaks, and $5,000 to those in past construction areas, for private lead line replacement. The WWW staff attributed the need for additional funding to the rising costs in plumbing services.

The Commission will also renew its agreement with Rain Water Solutions, Inc. for the sale of rain barrels this year.