The world’s largest wastewater treatment plant makes a bold move from nutrient removal to nutrient recovery. Will others follow?
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., famous as an environmentalist and even more famous for his ancestry, stepped to the podium at WEFTEC promising a “monumental announcement.” Though such words at press events are often overstatement, this particular announcement lived up to the billing — certainly for the show’s attendees, but also for any wastewater treatment professional, public official, or environmentalist worth their salt.
After setting up the audience with remarks on the importance of recovering nutrients from wastewater, Kennedy delivered the news: Chicago’s Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, the world’s largest wastewater treatment facility, is soon to be the world’s largest nutrient recovery facility. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) struck a deal with Ostara to extract phosphorus and nitrogen from Stickney’s wastewater and turn it into commercial-grade fertilizer, with plans to go online in the fall of 2015.
The importance of the design-build project, which also includes Black & Veatch, is illustrated by the following points Kennedy delivered during the speech:
While this deal should have significant impact for the Chicago area, its greatest effect may be the ripple effect — how it influences other municipalities to get on board with nutrient recovery.
“The adoption of this technology by this plant is a brazen, bold, and far-sighted act by the commissioners and (MWRD Executive Director) David St. Pierre,” said Kennedy. “To have a plant of this size step up and say ‘we’re going to do something different’ bucks the trend of ‘safe,’ conventional treatment.”
Early adopters of new technologies are indeed vital to an industry in need of more efficient, sustainable solutions, but one that is also naturally (and understandably) risk-averse. After all, failed “experiments” in the world of water treatment are costly on many levels — for human health, the environment, and the pocketbook.
There is no more visible wastewater facility than Stickney, so hopefully MWRD’s “brazen, bold” example will open the floodgates (apologies to Rahm Emanuel and his Chicago stormwater initiative) for the widespread adoption of innovative approaches to wastewater treatment.
Image credit: "Main stem of Chicago River from Lake Shore Drive Bridge," © 2012 Chicago Running Tours & more Member, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en