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City plans $1 million expansion to wastewater plant

by ANDREW MACIEJEWSKI, amacieje - ski@wabashplaindealer.com

The Wabash Wastewater Department is preparing for a $1 million expansion to their facility, which will bring the plant into compliance with federal and state phosphorus limits by 2019.

Last year, Wabash’s wastewater treatment facility averaged 1.1 mg/L of phosphorus in its wastewater being discharged into the Wabash River, according to Wabash Wastewater Department Superintendent Bob Gray. But the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requires facilities to limit phosphorus discharge below 1 mg/L.

Gray said cities across the U.S. are making similar expansions to meet the new phosphorus standards. 

Phosphorus levels may vary depending on how much rain the city receives, according to IDEM reports.

“It varies from year to year,” Gray said. “We’ll have months where we will be below one the whole month, but then we might have a month where we are at 1.8 or 2.2. And you know how that throws your average off.”

If Wabash does not reduce its phosphorus limits by 2019, IDEM could fine up to $25,000 for each day the facility is not in compliance.

Bids were sent out a few weeks ago and will be reviewed by the Wabash Board of Works and Public Safety in May.

While bids are not available yet, Gray said engineers designed a system that should cost around $1 million and would be completed before the end of 2018.

Gray plans to build a facility that will chemically treat the water by adding chemical called alum. Alum will react and bind with phosphorus to form a heavier-than-water byproduct that can be removed and dumped into a landfill once it settles on the bottom, according to the North American Lake Management Society.

The water that comes into the plant is brown and full of pollutants but leaves the plant crystal clear, Gray said.

The system will also be built to allow the department to change the chemical used, in case the cost of alum rises.

Alum is short for aluminum sulfate. It reacts with water to create a mild acid, and could be potentially harmful to the environment especially fish, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, but the alum injected in Wabash’s facility should be contained since the alum will form a sludge and be removed.

“We calculated a design to be feeding anywhere from 20 lbs a day to potentially 120 lbs,” Gray said. “There is just no way to control that with the way the flows fluctuate.”

Federal requirements started under the Clean Water Act of 1972, which was created to regulate pollution discharged into water bodies to protect aquatic life and human health, according to IDEM’s website. Historically, there was a push from environmental lobbyists to protect the nation’s lakes, rivers and surface water after heavy industrial pollution caused the Cuyahoga River to catch fire multiple times in 1969, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Recently, there has been another push to regulate pollution, but this time environmental agencies are targeting nutrient pollution from agriculture runoff, lawn and garden fertilizers and man-made sources. Nutrient pollution is associated with the so-called “dead zone” that is forming in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River, caused by fertilizers that are being picked up by rain and washed into rivers that feed into the Mississippi. The fertilizer then feeds algae, which use the oxygen from the water in order to survive, stealing oxygen from fish and creating a zone of water devoid of oxygen or fish.

“It’s hard for a lot of people to fathom or understand it,” Gray said. “I mean, I’ve been doing this for a long time and sometimes I don’t understand a lot of the reasoning behind it, but I think the gist of it is, if you just let everybody do what they think is right, then it’s hard telling what you would end up with.”

Gray said his department was prepared to build the facility when they renewed their wastewater discharge permit, called the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), in 2016. The department budgeted money out of a bond for the City’s Long Term Control Plan, which will separate sanitary sewage lines and stormwater lines to reduce untreated wastewater from being discharged into the Wabash River.

“This stuff doesn’t last forever,” Gray said. “The plant that was built in 1994 is now 24 years old and stuff starts wearing out, regulations change and unfunded mandates come out of nowhere – I mean, this wasn’t something we ever planned on doing until IDEM came out with the rule a year or so ago.”