City celebrates completed wastewater project

Article by Steve Garbacz of KPC Media

KENDALLVILLE — For the next 50-plus years, Kendallville residents shouldn’t have to worry about what happens when they flush their toilets, run their dishwashers or washing machines or empty their bath tubs.

In celebrating the city’s completed $6.5 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade, the city now has plenty of room to handle all of what its citizens put down the drain.

City officials, engineers and contractors, state Sen. Sue Glick and Rep. Dave Abbott and even the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management met Friday morning for a celebration and ribbon cutting to recognize the project that’s been four years in the making.

“This positions our community for growth,” Mayor Suzanne Handshoe said during the dedication, with the expectation the added plant capacity could serve the community for 50-70 years or more.

The city was able to fund the project through a bond that is being paid for with increased revenue from rate increases. Kendallville was therefore able to construct the project without having to rely on grants or other government aid.

Kendallville employees also did as much work in-house as possible, which created a notable cost savings, Handshoe said.

IDEM’s Bruno Piggott spoke briefly, recognizing the city for a forward-thinking vision. His department oversees 1,100 discharge permits in the state, so having a community think ahead is a benefit for the city and for the environment that sewage ultimately affects.

“What I really appreciate is the vision to think about how we can operate more efficiently,” Piggott said. “I just want to say congratulations.”

After a ribbon-cutting, attendees split up for tours of the new plant to show off the new areas and talk about what they do.

The primary focus and the brunt of the project are the four new aeration tanks located at the bank of the property off Wayne Street. Construction of the tanks not only great increased capacity, but also changed the way Kendallville treats its wastewater, primarily in the second step of the process to remove dissolved pollutants after suspended solids have settled out during the first step.

The city used to use a trickle filtration system, which was an older method of filtration and resulted in some common problems for the city, such as filters icing up during winter and clogs.

“We saw some shortcomings in the old sewer system,” wastewater Superintendent Mark Schultz said.

Now Kendallville will utilize an activated sludge method. One of the main differences is that instead of running wastewater through a coarse media, the aerators inject air into the holding tanks. Microscopic bacteria eat the dissolved organic matter in the water, cleaning it, as well as help clump together waste particles.

At the end of the entire treatment process, clean water is returned to local water sources, while the remaining solid sludge is dehydrated, leaving a dirt-like waste that is then carted off to a landfill.

The biggest part of the wastewater project was building these new aeration tanks. Those tanks consist of about 3,000 cubic yards of concrete — about $3 million worth — as well as 260 tons of reinforcing steel.

Inside the deep concrete tanks, the water being treated has a dingy brown color, but is in a constant state of motion with white bubbles cascading across the surface from the water, bubbling up from pumps at the bottom of the tank.

One of the keys to this new system, Schultz explained, is keeping the right balance of “bugs,” the hungry bacteria that cleans the wastewater. Too few and the process slows down, while too many causes other types of issues.

Kendallville’s plant receives a higher-than-usual amount of organic waste, in part due to some of the local industries that are sending effluent from their plants, Schultz said, so there’s always a lot for the bacteria to eat.

To keep a balance, some of the activated sludge leaving these tanks is returned to the system as a bacteria-rich fuel to keep the process going, while some is pumped out for further clarification and disposal as waste sludge.

The bottom line, Schultz said, is the city is well-positioned for the future with a modern, efficient plant. When residents flush, they can be confident the wastewater plant will take care of it.

“They’ve got a very good wastewater treatment plant, which ultimately protects the environment,” Schultz said.