HPUD Citizens Academy ventures down the drain

Shannon CareyHalls, Powell

It’s possible that somewhere there exists enough hand sanitizer for the Hallsdale Powell Utility District Citizens Academy visit to the Beaver Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, but I’m not sure where that is.

As I mentioned last time, I’m taking part in the HPUD effort to educate stakeholders about its  infrastructure and rate history, and last week’s visit to the wastewater plant was a real eyeopener.

Nancy Newman, who works in the water testing lab at Beaver Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, shows wastewater as it arrives at the plant and as it leaves the plant.

All jokes aside, despite what you’d think the wastewater plant on Beaver Creek is surprisingly clean and mostly odor-free. HPUD fed us lunch from Steamboat in an operations center. We heard from HPUD CEO Darren Cardwell about the nitty-gritty of wastewater treatment, and then we went on a tour of the place.

The plant sits on about 45 acres bordering Beaver Creek in Powell. It was built in 1963 and underwent a renovation and expansion in 2006 due to a consent order from TDEC and EPA to stop all sewer overflows into Beaver Creek. Cardwell said in 2003, the plant had 160 violations in which untreated sewer issued into the creek. Since the renovation, the plant has been award-winning, with only four violations between 2005 and 2014.

The plant processes 2.87 billion gallons of wastewater per year, an amount that could fill Thompson Boling Arena 21 times. Maximum peak flow is 21.6 million gallons per day, with the average right around 7.43 million gallons per day, and monitoring includes more than 908,000 tests each year.

These jars contain (left to right) wastewater as it comes to the plant, wastewater during the oxidation process, fresh drinking water, treated water as it leaves the plant, a sample of water from Beaver Creek, and dry solids harvested from wastewater.

That’s because the treated wastewater that goes into Beaver Creek must be as clean or cleaner than the water that’s already in the creek, and the size of the waterway is a factor.

HPUD’s Nick Jackson put it this way, “Our permit is stricter than KUB because the Tennessee River is way bigger than Beaver Creek.”

Cardwell addressed sewer costs for HPUD customers, too. He acknowledged that HPUD rates are higher than neighbors, particularly KUB, but KUB has more sewer customers, so there is a scaling factor of 30,000 versus 100,000 sewer customers. For sewer, HPUD customers pay less than two cents per gallon.

Cardwell also said that lack of sufficient and effective sewer capacity can limit development, which could keep costs high or even raise costs for customers.

“I always encourage quality development and growth,” said Cardwell. “The lifeblood of the community is our developers. If growth ever stops, we all know that cost is not going to stop.”

Todd Dykes shows members of the HPUD Citizens Academy a set of in-use membrane filters.

The plant uses two phases of wastewater treatment. The first uses traditional means of oxidation ditches, clarifiers and secondary filters. Bacteria consume the pollutants in the wastewater, and solids sink to the bottom of the ditches, where they accumulate and allow cleaner water to rise to the top. The second phase is what Jackson called “the latest and greatest” technology for wastewater treatment, membrane filters whose super-small openings allow only clean water to pass through.

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