Ketchikan Gateway Borough

Sludge & Wastewater Information

Who should read this?

This should be read by everyone who lives in Ketchikan and flushes a toilet, but particularly by those with on-site treatment systems and their neighbors who live downhill.

Our community has a wastewater and sludge disposal crisis. Faced with this crisis, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and Cities of Ketchikan and Saxman formed the Borough Sewage Task Force to address our common wastewater treatment and sludge disposal problems. The Task Force proposed the On-Site Wastewater Treatment and Sludge Conversion Program. An explanation of the crisis, the Program, and the Program’s costs follow.

What is Wastewater?

Wastewater includes sewage from your toilets and garbage disposals, as well as gray water from your sinks, dishwashers, and clothes washers.

What is Sludge?

Sludge is the solid material that settles out of wastewater during treatment. It consists of human waste, food waste and garbage that was put down the drain or into a toilet.

I Live in the City

For folks who live in the cities of Ketchikan or Saxman, or in service areas such as Mtn. Point or Forest Park, household wastewater is piped away from their lots to a common wastewater treatment plant. These plants produce virtually clean water (that is released into the saltwater), as well as sludge (which must be removed and disposed of periodically).

I live outside the city or service area. What happens to my wastewater?

If you live outside the city and service areas, your wastewater is first piped to your treatment tank- a component of your on-site wastewater treatment system located on your lot. The next step consists of either on-site disposal (via a drain field) or off-site disposal (via a marine outfall).

In a perfect world

Slow passage of wastewater through the treatment tank permits sludge to settle out of the flow. The liquids move on toward the drain field to filter through its soils and emerge as virtually clean water. Marine outfalls allow liquids to blend with saltwater where they are diluted and flushed away by tidal action. The sludge in the treatment tank is supposed to be pumped out every two to three years.

Many on-site systems in our community fail. That is, they do not release acceptably clean water. Improper drain field design and/or installation is the primary cause of system failure. Steep terrain, shallow bedrock, and heavy rainfall (resulting in water-logged ground) also make installation and operation of on-site systems challenging in SE Alaska. For this reason, proper system maintenance, especially pumping of sludge, is more crucial to successful functioning of on-site systems in SE Alaska than in places with drier climates and well-drained soils.

Your Treatment System - Cross Section

Have I contributed to this problem?

Possibly. Some folks are misinformed about the maintenance requirements of on-site systems, while for others it is simply not a financial priority. Still others may simply forget to schedule it to be pumped. We all have great demands placed on our time and our wallets. But it’s a moot point. Currently, only a few systems can be pumped because we do not have a sludge treatment facility with adequate capacity. (A limited volume of sludge is being processed at Mt.. Point.)
Public wastewater and sludge treatment, or the lack of it, affects us all. When wastewater treatment systems are incorrectly located, designed, or maintained, they can be expensive to repair or replace and can pollute drinking water sources– making you, your families and friends sick. Getting it right is important.

What to do?

The Borough Sewage Task Force has proposed three ordinances for consideration by the Borough Assembly. A solution is at hand.

The On-Site Wastewater Treatment and Sludge Conversion Program

The ordinances will provide for an initial loan of $625,000 from the Borough Land Trust to construct a facility at the Ward Cove Mill site that will store and compost the sludge pumped from on-site and service area treatment systems. The final product from this facility will meet Class A Biosolids Standards as defined by the EPA and will result in a composted product that is pathogen free and unrestricted in its use. This means you can confidently condition your vegetable garden with it.

The ordinances will also establish an Enterprise Fund and a monthly household fee structure. An Enterprise Fund, like the Airport Enterprise Fund, is required to be self-financing. This Enterprise Fund must generate revenue to pay for its activities and to repay the $625,000 loan. A monthly fee of $15 per household will provide this funding. The fee will be paid by Borough households outside the cities of Ketchikan and Saxman and the service areas of Mtn. Point and Forest Park.

What Do I Get for my $15.00?

The fee will entitle your household to one free pumping of your on-site system every three years, a service that currently costs almost $400. In addition, Borough technicians will periodically monitor your on-site system and advise you of possible maintenance needs.

In the long term, the proper functioning of your and your neighbors’ on-site systems will be enhanced. You will be confident about main-maintaining a healthy community and renewing the quality of area watersheds and coastal waters. Sludge produced by your household will be ultimately converted to a useful organic material. A silk purse from a sow’s ear. A community asset rather than a liability. Our community will smell great and our wastes will be managed responsibly. It’s the right thing to do.

For more information about these and related issues please visit these excellent web sites: