Wastewater project flows into the future


MILFORD — The Kent County Regional Resource Recovery Facility, or as it was know in the past, the Kent County Wastewater Treatment Facility, celebrated the completion of its 2-year, $24 million nutrient removal and capacity expansion project on Friday. The most notable change brought to the Milford facility by the project is that it’s capacity has been increased from 16 million gallons per day to 20 million gallons per day.

“The project is the culmination of several years of planning and design,” said Andrew Jakubowitch, director of Kent County Public Works.

“We currently receive a flow of 12 and a half million gallons per day, but now we can handle 20 million. The upgrades provide additional capacity so if larger businesses move to our county, they’ll have more available capacity for all the wastewater flows from their businesses.”

The wastewater facility already contends with large commercial operations such as local colleges and Purdue Farms, which produces at least 1 million gallons per day on its own.

In addition to increased capacity, the project added effluent building modifications to bypass and upgrade the bar rake system to move large debris, Mr. Jakubowitch said.

“We also added two new secondary clarifiers for a total of six for the capacity expansion,” he said. “To increase the quality of water leaving the site, we added a sand filter building. This is used for additional nitrogen removal of wastewater and it reduces turbidity to the receiving stream. We expanded the UV disinfection system too.”

Funding for the project was provided by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, USDA and county funds.

There are a few features that make the facility a bit different from an ordinary wastewater treatment plant. Their dedication to redistributing bio-solids free to local farmers is one such distinction.

“Two years ago, the public works renamed the facility to a resource recovery facility because we don’t just simply treat wastewater, we recover natural resources that are diminishing every day,” said Mr. Jakubowitch.

After processing the wastewater, the resulting disinfected bio-solids are processed into a product with the consistency of potting soil that is distributed to local farmers at a rate of about 1,160 tons per month. Farmers use the product as a soil conditioner because of its nitrogen, phosphorus and lime content.

The facility has also devoted special attention to energy efficiency and independence.

“Several years ago, we built a 1.2 megawatt solar field,” said Mr. Jakubowitch. “We also have five on-site backup generators. With the combination of the solar field and generators, we have the ability to islandize — this means if Delaware Electric Co-op wants us to go off the grid at times of high electrical demand, we can do that.”

The drive to be efficient and innovative is something that was recently recognized by the Water Environment Federation, a peer committee of utility leaders, when they elected Kent County Public Works as one of their Top 61 Utilities of the Future.

“We share space on that list with Los Angeles County and New York City. We’re actually one of the smallest communities in it,” said Mr. Jakubowitch. “We’re also one of the few wastewater plants on the list, most of them are just water treatment plants.”

Although the facility is putting a cap on its most recent project, it already has several more planned for the immediate future, the first being an estimated $5 million dollar bio-solid dryer system upgrade.

“With a new bio-solids dryer system we’ll be significantly more efficient,” Mr. Jakubowitch said. “We’re also working on gaining energy from the wastewater itself. The microbes in the wastewater give off the methane gas that we can use to power engines that will provide electricity. This project would probably cost around $30 million, but could fully pay itself off in about 30 years. With this, we can become fully self-sufficient and go off the grid.”

Jim Newton, the facility’s environmental program manager, is even looking at technologies that may not be realized for another 10 years.

“There is research being done right now that shows the microbes actually give off small electrical charges as they do their work,” he said. “We can turn our entire aeration basin in to electrical cell, and have the process that the microbes are already doing produce power.”

By repeatedly increasing their efficiency, the plant’s administration hopes to keep utility costs to residents and commercial operations in the county as low as possible. They are constantly eying and experimenting with new technology, Mr. Newton said.

“There may not really be a reduction in the user rate, but a slower increase in any rates to users,” said Mr. Jakubowitch. “We’d like to keep the rates rising slower than inflation. With our work, we haven’t had to increased the user rates since 2008. Being more efficient at the plant helps us keep it that way.”

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