Expansive treatment plant upgrades

Wastewater gets a makeover
By: Melody Stone, Journal staff writer
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The upgrades to the Auburn Wastewater Treatment plant are expansive, bring the plant into compliance with state and federal regulations and save the city lots of money. Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson said the upgrades are really important for the city. Originally the project was estimated at $24- to $25 million. In the end the city will spend about $4.6 million on the upgrades. “It brings the city into compliance with state and federal-water-quality control requirements at dramatically reduced cost than originally projected,” Richardson said. “That’s because of some truly excellent work from city staff.” Bernie Schroeder, engineering division manager with the city of Auburn, said one of the upgrades is an ultra-violet-disinfection chamber, which replaces the chlorine system currently in use at the plant. “The idea is to use a more environmentally sensitive process to get away from chlorine disinfectant byproducts,” Schroeder said. “This is a technology that has had a chance to prove itself in the last 10 years. It’s an adopted, accepted, encouraged process by the regional water quality control board.” Public Works Director Jack Warren said chlorine isn’t harmful when it’s used properly, but it’s a dangerous chemical and a lot can go wrong. “It’s a toxic chemical so you have to be very careful,” Warren said. “When it works well it works well, but if you can do without it you’re much better off.” The new system runs wastewater over ultra-violet lightbulbs, which disinfect the water just before discharge. While the ultra-violet chamber is built, solar panels are being installed to support the 20 percent jump in power usage as a result of the new system, Schroeder said. Schroeder said the project has already been funded by bond sales and a sewage rate increase in 2007. The reason the project’s price dropped substantially from the original estimates is a combination of design changes, favorable bond rates and low construction bids. Warren said they were able to eliminate a very expensive filtration system from the original estimate. Originally, city officials looked into building a pipe to connect Auburn with a regional wastewater treatment plant in Lincoln. Warren said the construction of the pipeline would run around $65- to $85 million. If city officials did nothing about the wastewater treatment plant, the state and federal governments would begin fining the city until compliance is reached. “The reason for all this is to comply with certain standards,” Warren said. “When we’re done here the quality of the water will be suitable for irrigation.”