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Sycamore brings water facility into 21st century

Published: Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

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SYCAMORE – Clean water does not come cheap or easy.

With equipment more than 35 years old, Sycamore will embark on a roughly $10 million upgrade to its wastewater treatment plant on North Cross Street to ensure the cleanliness of the Kishwaukee River and help keep disease at bay.

Public Works Director Fred Busse said sewage has always been a threat to spread disease, which is why it is important to stay updated with the most effective technology. The city plans to do just that with the addition of equipment such as sequencing batch reactors and ultraviolet light for water disinfection.

“The equipment we have is 35 years old and it’s really meant to only last about 20,” Busse said. “It’s important we get that replaced, and it makes more sense to bring in new equipment instead of retrofitting or converting what we already have.”

Although residents will not see much difference from the city’s $10 million investment, Busse said the treated water discharged into the Kishwaukee would be even cleaner and the facility’s capacity would increase from about 3 million gallons a day to about 5 million ennabling the city to accommodate future growth.

More efficient process

Making sure everything from garbage ground up in a disposal to chemicals such as phosphorous do not end up in the water system is a roundabout process.

In the existing system, Busse said sewage passes through preliminary screening that removes larger debris such as toilet paper, which is then separated and sent to a landfill. The water then goes through aeration tanks where solid waste begins to separate from the water.

The water then moves to clarifiers before continuing to a tank to be treated with liquid bleach only to be dechlorinated before the water is released into the river.

Busse said the lengthy process would become much more efficient with the addition of sequencing batch reactors, which handle separation and aeration procedures in one tank. He said the existing large clarifiers and some aeration tanks would no longer be needed.

The new reactors would likely be built adjacent to the aeration tanks at the facility.

“Almost everything is going to be able to take place in one tank instead of all these separate concrete structures,” he said.

Environmentally friendly

The new process will have far less reliance on chemicals and produce more solid waste that can be used as fertilizer.

Busse said the water will no longer have to touch chlorine or liquid bleach to be cleansed. Instead, ultraviolet light will do the do the job. Running the water through an ultraviolet chamber kills all the harmful bacteria without chemicals.

“The environmental groups here were definitely happy to see us go that route,” Busse said.

The facility also will add a wetlands area the water will pass through before it hits the river. The wetland acts as an additional biofilter, although Busse said all Environmental Protection Agency requirements must be met before the water reaches that stage.

The new wastewater facility also will use biotreatment to remove phosphorus instead of relying on chemicals, although chemical agents still will be needed sparingly, Busse said. The solid waste left over in the process will also pass through an enhanced dewatering device that will make the end product drier and better for the farmland it is dispersed over.

Fee free

Despite the hefty price tag, Busse said residents should see little or no increase to water and sewer bills to fund the project.

The city will use an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency revolving loan that cycles between and is supported by municipalities and reserves from sewer and water funds. Debt service from previous wastewater projects are also coming off the books, which will free funding sources, Busse said.

“We’ve been able to build up reserves, which is good,” Busse said. “Because we still have to address aging infrastructure like original sanitary lines. Some were probably built in the 1920s.”

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