AUSTIN — The Austin City Council on Monday approved the go-ahead for a major investment in the city's wastewater treatment infrastructure. 

On a unanimous vote, the council approved a plan to expand the capacity of the wastewater treatment facility from 8.475 million gallons a day to 10.4 MGD. 

City Engineer Steve Lang said the expansion and upgrade of the treatment plant is necessary to meet projected need of both residential and industrial need over the next 20 years. The city's main industrial client, Hormel Foods, is expected to increase its flow output from 2.04 MGD to 2.75 MGD by 2040. 

Meanwhile, the city is projecting a population growth of about 15 percent by 2040. In total, the treatment plant will need to increase its permitted flow to 10.4 MGD by 2040, Lang said. 

All of this must be done while not increasing pollution discharge. 

Of the three plans outlined before the city council, Lang and city staff recommended option 2, which comes with a price tag of $78 million to meet the 10.4 MGD capacity. Lang said the option would allow the city to meet future standards for water treatment, including phosphorous standards that new plants must meet. 

The problem with option 1 was it did not meet future water quality regulations. Option 3 would have set up separate domestic and industrial treatment processes, and would have cost $90 million for construction. 

The city had already raised its sewer rates in 2018 by 25 percent, and the rates have planned increases through 2023 of 7 percent annually. At that level, if the city gets $15 million in state bonding money — the city is hoping to get half that money approved by this summer from the state legislature – and grants for improvement of point source infrastructure and a green initiative grant, the city's portion of the costs would be reduced to $55 million. 

Lang said the sewer rate increases will give the city enough funding for the project, but if any state money or grant money falls through, the city may need to further raise sewer rates. 

"We'll know this summer where we sit with the first round of bonding," Lang said.

The goal is to start the engineering and design process in 2020, with preliminary design work expected to take a year or 18 months, Lang said. Construction would start in June 2021 and take about three years.

"We've been working on this for five years, and there's about five more years until it gets done," he said. 

In other business, the city approved a four-way stop sign be permanently installed at the intersection of 10th Drive and Fifth Place Southeast. 

Lang said the intersection is the ninth most dangerous in Austin, and has seen 24 accidents during the 10-year span from 2006-2015.

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