A 2 1⁄2-year wastewater plant expansion is nearing completion for Bowling Green Municipal Utilities.
The $52 million project will not only expand the treatment plant’s capacity, it will change the way wastewater is treated and will add a process that recycles sludge that now goes to a landfill.
“We will be starting up the liquid (wastewater) side of the plant in about 60 days and the biosolid part in about 90 days,” said Mike Gardner, BGMU’s water and wastewater systems manager.
The biosolids area of the plant will convert sludge now going to a landfill into an organic fertilizer that can be used on crops and plants. The fertilizer will be sold to farmers in bulk.
“Most of the structural work has all been done,” Gardner said of the expansion. “Now it’s a matter of finishing all the mechanicals and getting the equipment hooked up so we can start testing.”
On the treatment side, the plant’s capacity will increase from 10.6 million gallons a day to 12 million. It’s constructed so that two more expansions could occur, potentially increasing capacity up to 15 million gallons.
“There is really no projection now for when that expansion need will arise,” Gardner said. “A couple of factors are influencing that right now. We don’t know if it’s just the economy and people are hesitant with building projects and there is slow growth in general, or if it’s because some industries are really taking a hard look at the water use practices and have implemented green practices that reduce water usage.”
Some might be using their gray water from sinks and other sources to do such things as irrigate plants. BGMU is considering using gray water in its new administration building.
BGMU General Manager Mark Iverson said there might also be some decline in residential water use, which corresponds to a drop in wastewater being treated.
“We’ve noticed there is a consumption reduction in the last two or three years, and we are trying to do a little research to see what categories that’s in,” Iverson said. “What we are trying to do is understand if that is a temporary change and recession driven or if it is a more permanent change.”
Increased awareness about green practices also might be a factor.
“It’s probably a combination of things,” he said. “On the residential side, you have people using front-load washing machines that use considerably less water than top load. That isn’t happening overnight, but as machines wear out people are replacing them, and that is a trend that ultimately becomes kind of permanent.”
Even if the extra capacity isn’t needed any time soon, a big part of the project was changing how BGMU actually treats waste, something that’s needed to meet changing regulations.
“We got our discharge permit (renewal) and we had some new standards we had to treat to,” Gardner said. The current system is not removing as much ammonia as it needs to from the wastewater before it is released into Barren River.
Iverson said he is pleased with the progress of the project.
“It’s been a long project in terms of time and we had some heavy rains early on the construction,” Iverson said. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily behind or ahead of schedule. I do know we are really anxious for everything to come on line so we can begin testing the new system.”