While many municipalities across the country are facing severe budget deficits due to the double jeopardy of pandemic-related loss of income and extra expenses, Patagonia’s FY20-21 budget of nearly two million dollars shows a small surplus.

In his first year as Town Manager, Ron Robinson appears to have met the challenge of preparing a balanced budget in difficult times. In addition, he has garnered a supplemental grant of $500,000 to replace and upgrade key components of the town’s wastewater treatment plant. Although these funds are not shown in the regular budget, they represent a 25% increase in the amount the town will expend in its 2020-21 fiscal year that begins on June 1.

The $500,000 grant is coming from the North American Development Bank, a binational financial institution capitalized and governed equally by the Federal Governments of the United States and Mexico for the sole purpose of financing environmental projects.

The scope of work for the grant includes replacement of several components of the facility, one of which is the auger. This is the device that receives the raw sewage as it enters the treatment plant and in corkscrew-fashion transports some 2,000 pounds of solids every week up through a metal tube to be deposited into barrels for compression. According to Robinson, the auger is a sore spot with neighbors who frequently complain about the loud grinding noise it produces.

In addition to the $66,000 auger, as part of the grant’s scope of work, the town has already replaced two priming pumps that were in constant need of repair and will replace the belt press, which compresses the solids that are then taken to the landfill.

More than half of the grant funds, however, will go toward draining, cleaning and sealing the above-ground tank where the treatment of the liquid takes place as it moves through a series of chambers that mix it with oxygen and chlorinate it to make it safe for the aquatic life forms that live downstream from where the plant discharges the liquid into Sonoita Creek at an average of 50,000 gallons each day.

Approximately 2.5 million gallons of fresh water are pumped from the town’s two wells each month and about half of that volume finds its way to the wastewater treatment plant. Two full-time employees, Juan Urias and George Deithorn, keep the plant operational, take regular samples and submit the required regular reports to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Thanks to the grant, Robinson will be able to feel a great sense of relief when the repairs are all completed. Until then, he remains concerned that the auger or some other critical component will break down, creating a real emergency if the treatment plant has to be shut down.