Water reclamation plant transforms sewage into clean stream water
July 14, 2007
Euphemisms can cloud reality. When a sewage treatment plant is instead called ‘A water reclamation facility,’ a picture of a wetlands stream harboring trout may come to mind. In this case, that is the reality.
The Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District is a county-run facility, responsible for collecting raw sewage from 102 square miles of Park City and surrounding areas, and transforming it in one day into three to four million gallons of water, cleaner than the stream water it’s being sent into.
Untreated wastewater was responsible for people of all ages contracting diseases such as dysentery, cholera, and yellow fever in the late 1800’s, said Michael Luers, general manager of the facility. Water-borne disease is still the leading cause of death in children around the world.
"The greatest strides in public health have been made in keeping drinking water separate from waste water," said Michael Boyle, operations manager of the plant.
Luers and Boyle, are proud of their facility, and during the school year, take fourth-grade students and above on tours. Paintings created by students and photos of bacteria and other organisms that digest sewage, hang from the walls of the office. The biochemical testing lab is on down the hall.
A few blocks away, the treatment facility is silent, odorless and inauspicious from the outside. On the inside, it is modern, and at least on the surface, has the hygienic look of a brewery. But what lies within the pipes, holding tanks and ponds, is a different story.
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Raw sewage enters the plant through 275 miles of mostly gravity-fed piping, from an area within similar boundaries to the Park City School District. Workers operate the facility eight hours per day, then computers take over the other 16 hours. The plant runs constantly.
A comb-like filter separates out inorganic materials that should not have entered the sewer system in the first place, such as sticks, cans, cloth and sand. From there, the sewage ends up in a holding tank where hundreds of species of microscopic organisms feed on it for about 18 hours. The bacteria and protozoa break down the material as their cells divide, reproducing new bacteria to take the place of dead.
"All they need is oxygen and sewage, and they become fat and happy," said Luers.
But the element phosphorus remains in the waste water in high concentrations, which would lead to lead to excessive growth of algae in rivers, which would kill fish by depriving them of oxygen. tricking the bacteria, Luers said, they can be made to ingest the remaining phosphorus.
The billions of bacteria "have a lifespan from minutes to days," Boyle said. The dead gluttons are filtered out, and by the end of the week, enough have been collected to fill a tanker truck, which will haul the rich organic material away, to be used as the top layer on landfills, or as a top cover for land to be used in growing grass.
The now clean water passes through a giant sand filter, that precipitates any remaining particles and phosphorus. The pure water has an extra step to ensure it is safe, passing over ultraviolet lights capable of killing bacteria and viruses. From there, the water is heavily oxygenated and returned to the ecosystem through a wetlands stream behind the facility.
"The water we discharge is many, many times cleaner than the natural stream water," Luer said. Ducks geese and moose regularly visit and fishermen catch fish along the stream.
Luers and Boyle recalled how one visiting biochemist drank a glass of the water being released into the stream because he had so much confidence in the plant procedures – but they don’t recommend that.
What not to wash down a sink:
Bacon grease or any kind of grease, which in effect clogs the arteries of the system, and has to be removed from tank walls with a rotating scraper.
Materials such as cloth, dirt, sticks or glass.
Chemicals, which if dumped on a large enough scale, could kill the sewage-eating bacteria at the plant.
Anti-bacterial soap if introduced to fresh water on a large scale harms fish’s endocrine systems, and, according to Boyle, "will mimic hormones which, as a result, will turn all fish into females.
Will flushing thousands of toilets in a short amount of time flood the treatment facility (Super bowl Sunday)?
Although there are surges in the system in the mornings and late afternoons, and during the Super Bowl, the reclamation facility automatically adjusts. To different volumes and concentrations of influx.