And now for plan B

Our City
by Mayor Marc Beitia

Well, it is o’dark o’clock Saturday again and the coffee is brewing, but not quite fast enough. It is later than when I first woke up at 12:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, but not much. I had this column finished Tuesday night; I wrote it early because I knew exactly what needed to be addressed. It was one of those best laid plans. It went awry, my plan A, as of yesterday when I was still missing a key piece that would complete it, allowing me to tell you about it. So I woke up at 12:30, tossed and turned, faded in and out, and decided on plan B. I have been meaning to tell you about the items in plan B for some time now. Other things have been more pressing. Plan B is in two parts. Brown Trout figuratively and Rainbow Trout literally. In that context they are completely different things, although they are part of the same ecosystem that exists below the American Falls Dam.

The new Wastewater Treatment Plant is online, it has been since early last week. Like the Downtown project it began eight years ago. Unlike the downtown project it required a majority of you to vote to see it completed. Like the Downtown project it will serve this community well into the future. Jay Rivera, the construction superintendent for RSCI who is building the plant, told me last week, “Mayor, this is a damn good plant, maybe the best I have seen. You should be proud of what your community has been able to build here.” Proud? When I moved here over 23 years ago “A Tradition of Pride” was the motto of the high school, school district and community. Though we have changed considerably in my eyes over the years I believe the foundation for the community’s sense of pride still exists here and for good reason. In all my years there have been many things I have been proud of but I never thought a wastewater treatment plant would be on that list. But, it most definitely is.

Superintendent Pete Cortez took me on a walk-through of the entire process at the plant last Monday. I have been through it multiple times, but this was the first time things were really flowing. Several things had to come together prior to the plant being able to process however. The first and most important thing was that the “biology had to come together,” as Pete put it. Biology? What does biology have to do with human waste? Well as my biology students learned a few weeks ago it turns out that an ecosystem needs something called decomposers. Tiny organisms, usually bacteria, that break waste and dead organic material down into their primary nutrients so that nature can reuse them. The “biology” Pete was referring to was the aerobic and anaerobic bacteria that decompose the waste. The “bugs” as Pete also calls them had to be grown and multiplied to the point where there are enough of them to be able to break down and process all the waste. It turns out the “bugs” are quite particular about their own environment and it must be scientifically controlled to maximize their growth and reproduction. Given what they live in it seems like an oxymoron, but nonetheless true. It took a month to grow enough “bugs” for the new system.

With the system online, we started our walk-through at the head works building. This is where everything that goes down any drain in your home ends up. From here, anyone with a good baseball arm can throw a rock in the Snake River. The Head works building is designed to screen out everything that is not biodegradable. Everything from fine gravel to “you have to be kidding me” types of things; it all ends up here. From the Head works building things move to the process basin where it contacts the first series of “bugs” and the biological processing begins. Upon leaving the Process Basin the mixed-liquor is pumped to the membrane bio-reactor building, which in essence is a collection of very sophisticated reverse osmotic filters complete with their own set of “bugs.” The bacteria further break down the effluent here and the water is filtered through the reverse osmotic membranes much like most backpacking and home faucet water filters. The solids are then pumped to another holding basin where they await the final processing in the Solids Handling Building. The water collected from the membrane flows downhill to the ultraviolet light treatment building where any remaining bacteria are killed prior to the water being deposited into the Snake River, cleaner than the water coming downstream from above. At the solids handling building the decomposed waste passes through a screw press where the remaining water is separated out and reenters the processing system while the solids are pressed into a moist cake-like material and loaded on a truck for transport. The water emitted from the plant is of a purity that could allow the city to use it for irrigation purposes. The solids that are collected are suitable for compost fertilizers on crops like wheat and corn.

As it is, the water is discharged into the Snake River, and if you have been down there anytime since October 16 you would know that the river below the dam needs all the inflow it can get. On the bright side, the rainbow trout that reside there are experiencing significantly better water clarity than they had a month and a half ago. The fishing pressure has increased dramatically though. Yesterday I counted over 50 people fishing from Eagle Rock to the dam. Many from the great state of “Ada,” more from Cassia, Minidoka and Blaine counties, Pocatello and several from Utah.

Until next week and hopefully Plan A…

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