Seemingly, all types of public works are crumbling under years of neglect and the price tag for remediation keeps climbing. Wastewater treatment plants are hardly immune to the problem.
All over the country, communities are pouring millions of dollars into wastewater treatment upgrades to keep aging plants running. The plant in Ogdensberg, NY, is emblematic of the issue.
“You don’t have to look twice at the equipment at the Ogdensburg Wastewater Treatment plant to tell that it’s old — almost 50 years old — and now it’s getting difficult to fix,” reported WWNY-TV. “This old, leaky equipment only has to remain operable for about another year, when the almost $40 million refurbishment project is expected to begin.”
Currently, the plant uses chlorine gas to treat the wastewater before discharge. The upgrades will convert it to a UV disinfection system, a potential cost saver in the future. The multi-million-dollar investment is seen as a more affordable alternative to building a new facility.
“Not only is refurbishing the current wastewater treatment plant cheaper than building a new one, but officials at city hall say you avoid the problem of deciding where a new one would go, which can be a controversial issue in residential neighborhoods,” WWNY-TV reported.
Exacerbating the nation’s problem with aging wastewater infrastructure are increasingly stringent regulations, which cost utilities and their constituents even more to meet.
“For example, limits imposed on the amount of ammonia and nitrates discharged into the environment from wastewater became more restrictive,” according to KPC News. “This has led to higher and higher costs for processing waste. Costs are passed on to users of the municipal sewage works. These utilities are funded by user fees, not taxes.”
In Kendallville, IN, the West Wayne Street sewage works is also undergoing a multi-million-dollar overhaul. To pay for it, city officials are going to increase user rates by about $7.50 a month. But it's not the utility’s fault that upgrades are needed and rates will go up.
“Kendallville’s situation is not due to poorly maintained equipment or facilities,” KPC News reported. “New and better methods of processing wastewater have made the city’s system somewhat obsolete. For example, trickling filters used in the process are exposed to the cold weather. Ice forms on the equipment in extremely cold temperatures and it can break down.”
The overhaul will introduce an activated sludge process with single-stage nitrification and hot air blowers to avoid freezing. While the utility was once allowed to give treated biosolids to farmers as fertilizer, more stringent environmental regulations were introduced to prohibit that practice and now Kendallville has to pay a contractor to dispose of the waste.
The nearby wastewater utilities in Ligonier, Wolcottville, and Cromwell are all also undergoing multi-million-dollar plant upgrades. The investments are just a few of many similar projects that are required all over the country.
Image credit: “Money," Rob Smitts © 2011, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0