When Batavia is completed with a rehabilitation of its aging wastewater treatment facility, the benefits will include greater energy efficiency, more effective sewage treatment and a significant reduction in environmentally damaging phosphorus to the Fox River and beyond. Because one of the reasons why it is so important to properly treat water here in the Midwest is that water flowing Batavia and other cities ultimately reaches the Gulf of Mexico, where a phenomenon known as Gulf hypoxia has created a “dead zone” hundreds of miles wide.
Improvement across the board
Reducing phosphorous is a federally mandated state and national program. But Batavia has simultaneously committed resources to accomplish several objectives in its revitalization of the wastewater treatment facility. “We view this an opportunity to improve in some important areas,” says Byron Ritchason, Superintendent for the wastewater plant on the south end of Batavia’s downtown.
Those include reducing the water remaining in sludge byproducts created by the sewage treatment process. “Generally, the material left over after wastewater treatment is safe to place on the ground or in a landfill,” Ritchason explains. “But the more water we get out of it, the easier and better it is to transport. The city has a no-tipping fee agreement with our waste hauler, so the economics of reducing the water content are quite good.”
That’s one of the reasons why the first phase of the wastewater treatment plant rehab will focus on the sludge-handling facilities. “That’s where our dewatering equipment will be,” says Ritchason. “We’ll also be installing a new electric service to the plant and new sludge storage tanks with odor control.”
One step at a time
That doesn’t mean odor from the facility will go away. Not right away. “We’ll be working our way to the back of the facility during the three phases of this project,” he notes.
The big silver domes on the property will stay. “They prevent freezing, for one thing,” he observes. “But their main job is preventing biological growth. We used to hire a guy 8-16 hours a week just to scrub down the algae that would grow in there. It’s a nutrient-rich environment as you can imagine. You know what it’s like when a pond scums over with algae? The same processes go on in a wastewater treatment plant if you don’t address the problem.”
Those “nutrients” and the byproducts they generate include high levels of phosphorus content that lead to algae growth. That same problem happens in the Fox River when the flow of water slows in summer and nutrients keep getting added from sources such as wastewater treatment plants as well as lawn chemicals and other sources. “Think about it,” Byron Ritchason notes. “The phosphorus that helps your lawn grow doesn’t stop working just because it hits a pond, river or stream.”
Green river no-go
In fact, In Elgin where the city draws its water from the Fox River, phosphorus-driven algae events have given drinking water a foul smell and even affected the ability to provide clear drinking water at all. So the problem of controlling phosphorus levels in rivers, streams and oceans is not some idyll quest based on questionable science. The challenge of reducing the phosphorus levels crosses all boundaries of civilization.
That requirement to reduce phosphorous levels proved sufficient motivation for Batavia to improve its wastewater operations on every front. Now the work has begun as feeder systems into the facility need to be improved first. Then the first period of actual construction can begin. This means the bike trail skirting the current plant will be closed throughout the summer of 2017 and into next year. If the City of Batavia ultimately considers siting a bike trail along the east and south side of the wastewater treatment plant property, the results of that consideration will be a couple years out.
It was simply time to take action on the treatment plant. “It doesn’t take much to see that some elements of our current facility are 50-years-old and degrading,” Superintendent Ritchason admits. “This phase will address our digestion system by re-using digested sludge gas for heating boilers and buildings. “
These modernizations will deliver economic savings, environmental benefits and waste treatment efficiencies that will last the City for the next thirty years. But for now, the Batavia community will be seeing plenty of construction equipment and hearing some loud work as the project progresses over the summer. The City of Batavia will provide project updates as they are available.
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