Ditching a Piecemeal Plan in Favor of Comprehensive WWTP Overhaul

When a stepwise approach to a plant upgrade fell short, a New York village opted for complete engineered solution.

Ditching a Piecemeal Plan in Favor of Comprehensive WWTP Overhaul

Dan Callahan is the maintenance specialist on a staff that collectively demonstrates diverse skills.

Sometimes the best of plans and intentions run into hurdles that can’t be cleared.

That’s what happened when the New York village of Newark set out to upgrade its 3 mgd (design) wastewater treatment plant one piece at a time to avoid a major bond issue and an increase in rates.

As it turned out, costly repairs to aging equipment kept consuming the funds set aside for the next year’s planned upgrades, bringing progress to a halt. Ultimately, on the advice of its engineering firm, the village opted for a comprehensive $23 million project that improved efficiency and removed the threat of a consent order for noncompliance from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

John Reynolds, chief operator, and his fully cross-trained team kept the plant operating and effluent quality within permit limits during the four-year construction project. Last November, the last punch-list items were completed, and the team celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for local and state officials and the community at large.

Ripe for renewal

Newark, a community of about 10,000, lies 25 miles east of Rochester and a dozen miles south of Lake Ontario. Its treatment plant was built in 1906 and progressively updated. A 1986 upgrade added a second digester and a new laboratory building, and at the same time, two force mains were replaced and one pump station added.

More than two decades later, the plant was showing its age. “There was some old equipment that had to be replaced, and we were under the threat of a consent order because when the flow got really high, some of our sewage was being bypassed into the Erie Canal,” Reynolds recalls.

When the piecemeal approach to upgrade didn’t work out, Newark officials in 2010 engaged the MRB Group engineering firm to conduct a villagewide facilities study. “They recommended what needed to be done and said our best course was to do it all at once,” Reynolds says. “That way, we wouldn’t have to worry about the costs increasing every year.” The upgrade plan covered the plant and the collections system, including the pump stations.

The project included a new headworks building, refurbishment of the two primary clarifiers, expansion of the aeration system from four basins to six, an upgrade to ultrafine bubble diffusion and high-efficiency turbo blowers, refurbishment of the two secondary clarifiers and addition of a third, an improved dewatering process, and the addition of biosolids composting (the material previously was landfilled).

Streamlined treatment

In the new process, the flow passes through a fine screen (Hydro-Dyne Engineering) with a second as backup. “I was adamant about getting two of them,” Reynolds says. “The original design called for one, with a manual bar screen in reserve in case the fine screen went down for repairs. I said, ‘We’ve got to have a second fine screen.’”

After a cyclone degritter (Envirodyne Systems), the water enters a wet well equipped with a flowmeter (Emerson / Rosemount) before delivery to the primary clarifiers. In the aeration tanks, three turbo blowers (Aerzen) deliver air by way of diffusers from Sanitaire - a Xylem Brand. A screw pump (EPIC INTERNATIONAL) then lifts the flow to the final clarifiers (Envirodyne Systems) before discharge to the canal. At present, no disinfection is required, although the upgrade included structure for disinfection with the expectation that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation will order that step in the coming years.

Anaerobically digested biosolids are dewatered to 17-18 percent solids on a 2.0-meter 3DP belt press (BDP Industries) and composted with wood chips in a building using the aerated static pile method. An aeration fan is controlled on a feedback loop based on the pile temperature.

Annual volume is projected at 600 cubic yards per year for sale to commercial entities or free distribution to the public.

Meeting the challenge

The upgrade process proved challenging for Reynolds (Class 3A Wastewater Operator license) and team members Dan Callahan, assistant chief operator (3A); Matt DePauw, plant operator (2A); and Rob Hilfiker, trainee.

“It was pretty interesting,” Reynolds says. “Some equipment we could keep running while they put in the new. The influent building was totally new, so we were able to keep the flow coming in while they built that, and then do a switchover.” On the other hand, the flow had to be bypass pumped from the headworks to the primary clarifiers to enable expansion of the wet well and the installation of new pumps (Hidrostal Pumps).

“We had two primary tanks, so we could keep one online while the contractor took the other one offline, sandblasted and painted it, and replaced all the equipment. At the same time, one of our digesters was offline, so our solids process was basically down to half capacity.”

As for the aeration tanks, two existing units were taken offline for cleaning and refurbishment while the two new ones were constructed. “We were down to two aeration basins for almost two years,” Reynolds says. “That was a little bit of a challenge in the spring when we had high flows. We instituted what we call our wet weather policy, which basically means reducing the airflow, closing some valves and opening others, and working to keep the effluent within the permit limits.”

Once the new aeration tanks were built, they were put into service and the remaining older basins were cleaned and refurbished. The two final clarifiers were kept online until the new and larger one was complete. That clarifier then handled the load while the older units were disassembled, sandblasted, and painted and the sidewalls were raised to increase the depth from 8 to 15 feet.

On the solids side, both digesters were emptied, sandblasted, painted, and fitted with new covers and a new gas collections system. A plate-and-frame dewatering press was replaced with the belt press, and the composting building was erected on vacant land in the center of the plant property.  

Pulling together

During the upgrade, the plant team’s dedication and cohesiveness were on display. “Part of our agreement with the contractor was that we would dewater the digesters to save money,” Reynolds says. “It was a win-win. It was good for the team because we got overtime pay, and it was good for the village because the cost was about half versus the contractor doing it.

“We worked long hours. Another operator and I would come in at 3 in the morning, fire up the press and start dewatering. The other crew members would come in during the day, and we would do our regular work. Then Dan would stay and continue dewatering until 7 or 7:30 at night.”

It helps to have a team whose members are experienced and versatile. Reynolds, in his 32nd year with the village, worked at the plant while in high school in an on-the-job training program. “When I left, the chief operator said, ‘I like your work ethic. If there’s an opening here, are you interested?’ Two years later, I came home from work and there was a note on my door from him, stating, ‘We have an opening.’”

Reynolds became chief operator six years ago and also serves as pretreatment coordinator, working mainly with the local hospital, two metal finishing companies, and a battery manufacturing plant. The other team members have their specialties — Callahan in maintenance, DePauw in composting, and Hilfiker in electrical work — but in reality, the four broadly share responsibilities. “Everyone can do maintenance, everyone can do lab work, everyone can do the composting,” Reynolds says. “We all work together.”

Reynolds leads with a light hand. “If I treat them right, they’re going to treat me right,” he says. “I used to be in the union like they are. When I took this position, I said, ‘I’m not going to change — I hope you guys don’t.’ There are times I put on my manager’s hat, but for the most part, I’m right there working with them and shooting the breeze with them at break time. I respect them. If there is a piece of equipment they need, I tell them, ‘State your case, and if we can justify it and afford it, we’ll get it.’”

Collections crisis

The camaraderie pays off during trying times, such as last September when an alarm system failure led to the flooding of a pump station. “We opened the door and the whole building was flooded,” Reynolds says. “Everything was underwater — the pumps, the control panel, the transfer switch. Of course, this was on a Friday.”

The team deployed a pump (Godwin Pumps, a Xylem brand) to empty the building and a sewer cleaning truck to vacuum out the wet well. Then they used the portable pump to bypass incoming wastewater into the force main. “That was the first day,” Reynolds recalls. “That Saturday night, we had to go back because the temporary control panel was failing. I got called in at 2 in the morning, and when I got there, it was within a foot of flooding again. I called Matt. We hooked the pump up and started bypass pumping again so we could get the control panel back up.”

They removed two pumps to send out for repair, leaving one pump in service. Just after repairs to the two pumps were finished, the remaining pump failed; the team quickly removed and replaced it, avoiding another flooding episode.

Continuing upgrades to the pump stations will help prevent such events in the future. For now, there’s time to appreciate the new plant facilities, put on display for last November’s ribbon-cutting. The highlight of that event was a microscope with a camera connected to a TV monitor for checking the process microbiology. “During the ribbon-cutting, as we gave tours, we had the biology up on the screen,” Reynolds says. “People just loved it.”

The event included Mayor Jonathan Taylor, village board members and other local officials, a state senator and assembly member, and a few dozen members of the public. Reynolds observed that the visitors were enlightened: “They didn’t like the fact that the sewer rate went up, but they got to see everything that was involved. Half the people didn’t even know the plant was here. They said, ‘I drive by here every day, and I didn’t even know what this was.’”

They do now, and they saw the results of $23 million well spent.

Excellent Backing

The Newark (New York) Wastewater Treatment Plant won a 2017 Silver Award for design excellence from the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York, but John Reynolds, chief operator, is equally proud of another award. In 1999, the plant received a Municipal Achievement Award from New York Water Environment Association to recognize decision-makers’ support for the operation.

“They realized that the mayor and the village board were 100 percent behind this plant,” Reynolds says. “We’re fortunate that the current and past administrations have been completely supportive. The previous mayor, Peter Blandino, was an angel. He was very informed. He knew everything that was going on. He also understood that we were the ones with the certifications, and he wasn’t going to come in and tell us what to do. The current mayor, Jonathan Taylor, is the same way.”


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