$50 million Silver Creek water reclamation facility shows off increased capacity, higher cleaning standards
Underneath one of the busiest intersections in the area, where S.R. 248 hits S.R. 224, another sort of flow hits a similar diversion point that is every bit as well-trafficked.
That’s where the wastewater coming from Deer Valley and Park City is sent to one of the Snyderville Basin’s two water reclamation facilities — either one at East Canyon or a newly completed $50 million facility at Silver Creek.
Despite the project’s magnitude — it cost nearly the same as the entire annual budget of Summit County — the new wastewater facility is just about as visible in the public’s mind as the 300 miles of pipeline the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District maintains below ground.
Unless something goes wrong, that is.
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The new facility was built on the same site as the facility it’s replacing, something the district’s general manager Mike Luers likened to remodeling a home while the people are still inside. The new plant was turned on for the first time in April, major construction finished in November, final punch-list items were completed by the end of the year and when the December numbers came in last month, Luers said the project came in nearly $2 million under budget.
But the biggest success of the new plant might be its ability to remove damaging material from the wastewater like phosphorus and nitrogen an entire order of magnitude more successfully than it could before. Those nutrients threaten the health of the area’s water system, most directly on the post-treated water’s path, which goes first into Silver Creek, then the Weber River and on into the Echo Reservoir.
Phosphorous, for example, enters the system at about seven parts per million in untreated wastewater. When it leaves the plant, that’s down to about 0.08 parts per million, 92% less than the 1 part per million threshold the plant is currently obligated to meet, Luers said.
In addition to nitrogen, the plant is also responsible for treating the water to many other standards regarding things like oxygen levels, ammonia, acidity and suspended solids.
Oxygen plays a huge role in how they accomplish the task, Luers explained. By manipulating the oxygen levels in the water, the system “fools” organic microorganisms into discharging the phosphorus they’ve eaten. When those organisms flow back into an oxygenated part of the system, they eat about seven times more phosphorus than they relinquished.
If you looked at a sample of the water under a microscope after microorganisms have been introduced, Luers said “it looks like the Serengeti,” with the organisms physically breaking apart organic matter.
One way to look at the plant is as a sort of farm for those microorganisms, and the system is maintained to within tenths of parts per million of oxygen levels, for example, to ensure the organisms grow well, Luers said.
The microorganisms are phosphorus-rich and once they die and settle to the bottom of the tank, they’re compressed into a soil-like substance that is trucked to the Salt Lake City landfill to be used as fertilizer.
Luers said the district is in talks with the South Davis Sewer District to send the microorganisms there instead, where they would be combined with compost and turned into methane that could be compressed into a pipeline and used as fuel.
That would help the plant’s carbon footprint, Luers said, as well as its bottom line, as it would be cheaper than the current arrangement. In January, the district trucked out nearly 2 million pounds of the dead microorganisms.
Luers explained that Silver Creek water reclamation facility is a tertiary treatment plant, and that it’s held to a high standard because it discharges into Silver Creek particularly close to its headwaters. In the summer months, the creek runs dry, Luers said, and fish and other wildlife are completely dependent on the discharged wastewater to survive.
The facility’s superintendent Cody Snyder said the biggest improvement in the new plant is the addition of two equalization tanks that enable the district to closely regulate the water conditions despite massive swings during peak flow times.
“We couldn’t hit the targets without them,” Snyder said.
The new facility has twice the capacity of the old one, Luers said, up to 4 million gallons per day. During the Sundance Film Festival, the system’s busiest time, Snyder said they were approaching 3.8 million gallons per day. Luers said the two currently operating plants combine to handle about 4 million to 4.5 million gallons per day on average.
The system is built to handle the area’s growth, including the 1,300 homes planned for Silver Creek Village right next door.
Thankfully for those neighbors, the plant’s odor control system works well, forcing foul air through gravel-like charcoal. Luers said the air system replaces all of the air in the intake building several times per hour.
The district plans for its capacity based on what growth has already been entitled in the Basin and makes population predictions based on existing zoning. Luers said the East Canyon water reclamation facility in Jeremy Ranch is already under preliminary planning for an expansion, a process that takes about five years.
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Park City has hired two deputy city managers, tapping a former high-ranking Sundance Film Festival official for one of the posts and a onetime top staffer in the Moab municipal government for the other.