Tuesday, April 24, 2018
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What’s the stink about treatment plant?

Peters has the scoop on city poop.

Ever wonder what happens when you flush?

Sewer pipes carry your waste, and that of others, through the city . It ends up in what Gothenburg’s wastewater treatment plant operator Mike Peters describes as a glorified aquarium.

There, hungry microorganisms—with help from infused oxygen—gobble up human waste with nary a stink, according to Peters.

“The microorganisms, which are all natural, need oxygen to eat the waste,” he said.

A simplified version of what happens goes like this:

When waste comes into the plant, a screen catches heavy grit—like gravel, thick toilet paper, tampons, children’s toys and more—which is isolated from the more liquid matter.

Throughout a system of basins, aerators and clarifiers, the liquid waste is fed oxygen and the microorganisms go to work, eating away at sewage.

In the process, nitrogen-rich sludge forms “which shouldn’t smell like waste,” he said.

The watered-down sludge, that Peters said resembles chocolate pudding, is about 3% solids and 97% water.

Once yearly, sludge is hauled away by a local farmer to spread on fields that grow crops like corn and alfalfa.

Peters said the city must meet requirements for what is in the sludge before they pay for its removal. In addition, the sludge must be used to fertilize above-ground crops and cannot be spread on root crops like potatoes.

While at the plant, Peters has reduced the sludge the city pays to have removed about 53%.

Treated water is discharged into the Cozad Canal, south of the plant.

Before discharge, the water is zapped by ultra-violent lights to remove bacteria such as e.coli.

Interestingly, Peters said

e.coli is still present but ultra-violet rays make the bacteria unable to reproduce.

When the plant was completed in 1993, he said it was designed to handle an average of 505,000 gallons of waste daily.

Each day, on average, Peters son said they treat about 517,000 gallons.

And, during heavy rainfall in June of 2010, he said he stopped calculating volume once the average hit 2.2 million gallons a day.

Although environmental regulations on wastewater treatment plants are tightening, Peters said the size of Gothenburg’s plant makes them fairly easy to meet.

Peters said the 19-year-old plant is in good shape, despite the fact that replacement parts for aging equipment are not always available. That’s when he and the city crew build their own or have someone else custom-make a part.

“Still, we need to look to the future and plan ahead,” he said.

As for what should be flushed down the toilet, Peters said: “If it doesn’t come out naturally, don’t flush it.”

Anyone wanting a tour of the plant can call Peters at 537-3669.

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