by Daniel Moore
Press Staff Writer
Now that the new wastewater treatment plant is completed, the City of American Falls can handle a whole lot more, uh… waste.
“We were reaching capacity. If we had something big come into town we couldn’t have handled it. Now we can almost double in size,” said Wastewater Superintendent Pete Cortez.
Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency does not have a load restriction on the Snake River. If that restriction is put in place, Cortez said, American Falls will be ready with the new treatment plant.
The water coming out of the wastewater treatment plant is 90 to 95 percent cleaner than the water from the old treatment plant. It’s cleaner than the Snake River, where the water is being released. The new plant can handle as much solid waste in a day as it could take the old plant six months to process because the waste had to dry outside.
While much of the new plant is easier to maintain, some of it is harder because of the stronger biological component the plant has. Tiny microorganisms, or “bugs,” break down the waste. Solids are removed by polymers, large molecules that bring together the solids in the water. All of that has to be carefully monitored.
“It’s more complex than what we had because of the things we have to monitor. There’s more we have to monitor for,” Cortez said.
Some of the wastewater is recycled back into the system to add the bugs to the new water coming in. The water is also treated with air to keep the bugs healthy. After being mixed in process pools while the bugs do their work, the water is then run through filters with only a .02 micron holes. The sludge leftover is removed and processed, leaving clear water flowing from the plant.
Construction of the plant cost over $12 million, said City Clerk Robyn Herndon. A bond passed in 2009 allowed for the city to obtain a variety of grants and loans for the project.
“We had really good funding sources,” she said. Water rates were raised to pay off the bond. At the time the bond was passed, city officials estimated five years until completion.
A shop and a lab still need to be constructed. That part will go out to bid this fall.