N. Liberty wastewater plant wins environmental award

BY KIF RICHMANN | JULY 29, 2009 7:15 AM

For North Liberty, winning an award for water quality started with bacteria.

Not getting rid of them, necessarily — using them to clean the water.

Today, North Liberty’s newly renovated wastewater-treatment plant, which utilizes a unique type of technology, will receive one of two 2009 Iowa Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards.

The plant works so effectively that it does not need to use another available cleaning step, UV disinfection, said Kevin Stensland, an assistant plant superintendent.

Kevin Trom, the North Liberty city engineer who also works for Shive-Hattery — a company that helped design the plant — said he will attend the awards ceremony at 9:30 a.m. in Des Moines.

Trom said the plant being used in North Liberty is not only a highly effective system, it is unique to the state.

“This is the most advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world,” said Dave Ramsey, the manager of the plant who has worked in the waste-management industry for 27 years.

Considering North Liberty spent $8.4 million on the technologically advanced plant renovation, Stensland said he doubted other membrane-bioreactor plants would crop up in the near future. The North Liberty City Council approved the project in 2007.

“They are extremely expensive, [but] North Liberty just wanted to be proactive,” said Stensland.

He described the plant as a massive, highly technological water filter that uses numerous processes.
One uses microorganisms grown at the plant to consume the waste in the water. Various types of bacteria devour different substances.

“This is like a bug factory,” Stensland said.

Officials at the plant estimate it takes around 25 days from the point water enters until it leaves the plant. The process starts with raw wastewater coming directly to the plant from the sewers. First, the water is tested for various substances and chemicals, including solids, phosphates, and ammonia.

Stensland said the initial testing is essential because workers have to know what came into the plant in order to see how effectively they removed the contamination.

The wastewater then undergoes pretreatment, which removes solid matter, before moving to the hungry bacteria.

At the end, the water is released at a nearly drinkable standard to Muddy Creek, which flows through a residential area and near a school and eventually into the Iowa River.

Mark Farrier, who tests samples and maintains bacterial levels in the plant’s lab operations, said he enjoys being part of a system deemed environmentally and technologically advanced.

“It’s fun to work on a plant that’s at the cutting edge of technology,” he said.

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