From Rare to Common

Treatment lagoons in Batavia, N.Y., attract a wide assortment of waterfowl, shorebirds and wildlife — and large crowds of watchers.
From Rare to Common
Ducks and many other birds are seen on and around the ponds, including herons, loons, swans, egrets, terns, hawks and geese.

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Nine lagoons make up the natural treatment system in the City of Batavia in western New York. On a 500-acre site just southwest of the city, they treat about 3 mgd (5.5 mgd design flow) and also serve as a destination for birdwatchers from all over the region.

“Recently we had a whole flock of birders in here because they could get a front-row seat to view a red-necked phalarope [a small migratory wading bird],” says Rick Volk, chief operator. Birders find the plant unique for viewing for lack of trees and brush. The berm around the ponds provides an excellent angle from which to view waterfowl and shorebirds.

Better treatment

Volk was on staff when the natural treatment plant was built in 1990 to replace an undersized and underperforming activated sludge facility, since decommissioned.

“When it was built, it was the largest lagoon system east of the Mississippi River,” he says. “It probably still is because most municipalities would have a hard time committing that much real estate to a treatment plant.”

Residence time in the lagoons varies from six to nine months. Primary-treated influent moves into one of three aerated and neoprene-lined ponds, each about 10 acres and 20 feet deep. Flow then passes through a tunnel under railroad tracks into two 46-acre, 8-foot-deep settling ponds, from which it is lifted about 10 feet into the first of four tertiary ponds, each 30 acres.

The stream is then divided. A portion passes through a series of three constructed wetlands for final polishing, then join the remainder before post-aeration and outfall into the Towanda Creek. Twenty-six acres of wetlands that are not part of the treatment process were built to mitigate 8 acres of natural wetlands destroyed during plant construction.

Lots of wildlife

More than 5 miles of 10-foot wide gravel roadway surrounds the ponds. All four plant operators take part in maintenance, which includes mowing, snow plowing and mechanical system repairs. They also take care of a parking area at a hiking trailhead near the wetlands.

Besides attracting migrating birds, the lagoons attract deer, coyotes, foxes, woodchucks and raccoons. The ponds are stocked with flathead minnows, first introduced to control nuisance midge flies (Chironomid). They have multiplied so prolifically that the plant contracted with a fish-bait dealer to trap them. “It helps to control their population, and the city gets a little bit of income from it,” Volk says.

Hunting and trapping are not allowed on the site, except for a retired state biologist who traps more than 100 muskrats each year. The muskrats thrive and build tunnels in the wetlands and under the roadways. The city receives nothing through the arrangement except added assurance about road collapses.

More than 180 species of birds have been documented in and around the ponds. Some, like the two-eared grebes (a species of duck), are rarer than others. Other ducks, plus herons, loons, swans, egrets, terns, hawks and geese, are more common.

Always welcome

Volk and his staff welcome visitors and have been recognized with a certificate of appreciation from the New York Ornithological Association. Birders register with plant staff to gain access and sometimes get tips or advice about recent sightings. First-time visitors receive an aerial map that shows the topographical features of the plant site.

Public support and participation are important to Volk, as is pride in his staff. “I have three of the most versatile New York certified operators in the state, and each one has a niche in which they excel,” says Volk. For instance, while Volk’s forte is process knowledge, Dave Petersen, operator, has an extensive electrical background. John Senko, operator, is mechanically inclined. Volk’s son, Kevin, has a degree in chemistry and is good with mathematics.

“I am very fortunate to have the staff that I have,” says Volk. “Everyone here seems to complement one another in all that we do.”


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