Kent County mulls $20 million sewer plant upgrade

MILFORD — It may surprise some Kent County residents to know that the biosolids created from the wastewater flushed down their drains and toilets actually has a brand name: Kentorganite.

Currently, much of the wastewater in the county is funneled to the Kent County Regional Resource Recovery Facility in Milford. From there it runs through screening, aeration basins, clarifiers, a sand filter and disinfection via ultraviolet light. The process eventually separates liquids from solids, returning clean water to the nearby Murderkill River. As for the solids, they’re treated with lime to kill pathogens and distributed to local farmers as Kentorganite.

Farmers have used this product for over 20 years as an additive to their fertilizer programs on their fields.

Kent County Public Works director Diana Golt. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Following a $24 million nutrient removal and capacity expansion at the plant several years ago, it’s come time to upgrade the aging equipment and process by which Kentorganite is produced, says Kent County Public Works director Diana Golt.

The 2016 upgrade enabled the plant to process up to 20 million gallons of wastewater per day. Though it has yet to consistently reach that marker in actual flow, the biosolid treatment program must be enhanced to keep up with expected growth in the county, says Ms. Golt.

Kent County Levy Court voted unanimously last Tuesday night to allow the public works department to continue a study into what the best future biosolid treatment method would be.

The public works department is weighing several options they say will prepare the plant for the future while providing some efficiencies. The project will cost an estimated $20 million. No timeline has been established because it remains in the research phase.

Financing for the project will likely be obtained through a mix of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) funding along with capital improvement fees collected from new users of the county’s wastewater system.

Rummel, Klepper & Kahl — a construction management/inspection firm — started work in April examining available technologies to see which changes would best fit the county’s needs. Their preliminary work has indicated that the existing drying equipment is aging and its capacity is undersized for the biosolids processing needs.

They’ve suggested adding new screening equipment and replacing “dewatering” and drying equipment. They’ve focused both on selecting the appropriate equipment to reduce annual operation costs while maintaining an end product that’s usable by farmers.

One of the biggest proposed changes is not using lime, but instead using heat and the drying process to kill pathogens, says Ms. Golt.

That would alter the product in two important ways: less volume and a higher nutrient content.

In a survey of about 30 farmers (the majority of current Kentorganite users), most were interested in a dryer product (without lime) that contained a higher nutrient value and said they’d be willing to pay for the new product. They preferred bigger pellet-like dried samples because they could spread it themselves, as opposed to using the single county-owned spreader.

Ms. Golt also noted that upgrades to the current process could help save significant costs in terms of more energy efficient equipment and eliminating the need for lime. Currently the county spends about $180,000 per year on lime, she added.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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