NEWBERRY — Wastewater is water that leaves toilets, dishwashers, sinks and industrial businesses after being used, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The Town of Newberry uses the Bush River Wastewater Treatment Plant to treat water produced by the town and surrounding businesses.
This plant started operations in 1981 and currently has five employees who oversee operations. Wastewater treatment involves a variety of complex steps; however, the end goal of wastewater treatment is to safely discharge water free of ammonia, toxic materials, solids, and other nutrients into the Bush River.
While sewage may come from residential areas, the majority of sewage comes from businesses in the area, according to Tim Baker, director of utilities for the town of Newberry. To cope with the activity of the incoming water flow, the treatment plant has been upgraded twice in recent years. With the most recent upgrade in 2011, the plant increased its water treatment capacity from 2.85 million gallons per day to 5.1 million gallons per day, according to Baker.
“The increased plant capacity is attracting more businesses to Newberry since wastewater treatment is a critical aspect of the industries. However, before industrial wastewater arrives at the plant, companies perform initial treatment based on guidelines provided by the Bush River Wastewater Treatment Plant,” Baker said.
Unlike other wastewater treatment plants, Bush River is a biological plant that uses bacteria and microorganisms in the water to break down organic and inorganic material, said Tim Cogdell, plant superintendent of Bush River Wastewater Treatment.
The wastewater treatment process begins with the removal of large physical objects from incoming water from sewer lines, Cogdell explained. After removing these objects, the water is aerated and mixed with oxygen, which activates bacteria and microorganisms. Once the oxygen has dissolved in the water, the organisms use this oxygen to break down the nutrients in the wastewater. The organisms deplete the water of chemical elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients.
“In this plant, the wastewater treatment process is entirely biological. It’s a delicate balance between bacteria in the water and nutrition,” Cogdell said.
Ashley Cutshall and Hannah Merchant, lab technicians at the sewage plant lab, constantly check the properties of the wastewater to meet DHEC and facility standards.
If the concentration of bacteria in the water is too high, the bacteria are flushed out with water, pushing them down a pump. The material at the bottom of the pump is pressed through rollers producing black sheets of bacteria that resemble asphalt used on roads. These sheets are then transported to the landfill. After this process, the number of bacteria in the wastewater is reduced.
“You must remove nitrogen and phosphorus from the water body before sending the water to the Bush River because it can disrupt the environment for the fish. These chemicals produce algal blooms that deplete water from oxygen-producing dead zones. These dead zones don’t have oxygen available for the fish to survive,” Cogdell said.
The plant is licensed by SC’s Department of Health and Environmental Control and renews its license every five years. Because of the environmental impacts untreated wastewater can have on freshwater systems, treating wastewater is more expensive than drinking water, Baker explained. Water treatment facilities can reclaim treated wastewater discharged into the Bush River for drinking water. Therefore, it is crucial to remove waste water from harmful materials and disinfect it with chlorine before entering the water system.
The town of Newberry is seeking an $11.8 million grant to repair sewage lines at the sewage treatment plant, according to Baker.
“Some of the pipes are 50 to 60 years old, which allows infiltration, the process in which water can seep through and cause the pipes to overflow. This overflow is dangerous for the environment. This station does not treat storm water; therefore, it’s a problem when water capacity overflows at the plant after a storm. Repairing these pipes will reduce that overflow. Every drop is expensive to deal with,” Baker said.