New Jersey American Water embarked on a $3-million effort to rebuild the plant, clean up its surrounding environs, and modernize its treatment processes. This included clearing debris and invasive vegetation and planting more than 600 native plant species. New Jersey American Water
New owners have completely overhauled the treatment processes of a once-dysfunctional wastewater facility in New Jersey—in half the time that was expected. The sparkling new facility now meets all applicable standards.
October 8, 2013—The wastewater-treatment plant in Pottersville, New Jersey, is a small facility that treats 50,000 gallons a day from about 100 homes, but it had big problems until a new company took over operations in 2008. The New Jersey American Water Company inherited a plant that had long been in disrepair, sitting on unkempt land swarming with invasive plants and discharging polluted and partially treated water into a nearby stream that feeds into the Raritan River.
Under the supervision of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the utility embarked on a $3-million plan to rebuild the plant, clean up its surrounding environs, and modernize its treatment processes. As part of a consent order issued by the NJDEP, the company was given five years to meet state standards for discharge pollutant levels. It would need only about half that time.
This July the NJDEP officially recognized the Pottersville plant as being compliant with the state standards and lifted the consent order. While the state just recently gave its seal of approval, officials at American Water say their self-testing has shown the plant to be compliant since the upgrades went live in March 2011, and that their hard work has resulted in vast improvements in water quality and in the condition of the nearby river and land.
“The current situation is essentially crystal-clear water quality. There’s no release of any solids and there’s a disinfection system which no longer uses chemicals,” says Andrew Higgins, Ph.D., P.E., the engineering practice leader for American Water Engineering. “It’s a ‘night and day’ story.”
The Pottersville plant was managed for decades by the Valley Road Sewerage Company until the company’s mounting financial and infrastructure problems put the facility in repeated violation of state environmental guidelines. The aging plant’s effluent consistently contained greater-than-permissible levels of suspended solids, ammonia, nitrogen, fecal coliform, and other contaminants.
Long-term pollution led to such reported environmental issues as sludge contamination of nearby wetlands and visible foam and sheen in the stream to which the plant’s effluent was released. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities filed a lawsuit against Valley Road Sewerage in the 1990s, which resulted in the state handing operations over to a receiver in 1995.
The plant remained in use into the 2000s but few changes or improvements were made due to a lack of funds and a permanent owner, says Suzanne Chiavari, P.E., M.ASCE, the vice president of engineering for New Jersey American Water. Her company purchased the plant in 2008 under an agreement that it would modernize the facility and prevent any problems. The company also set out to work with several environmental groups to reverse past ecological damage and restore the habitat surrounding the plant.
The overhaul included the construction of new aerators to improve
microbial treatment, as well as new ultraviolet disinfection units,
disk filtration systems, a post-aeration tank, and a new generator
to improve reliability in the event of a power outage. New Jersey
The company quickly got to work repairing the plant’s leaky roof, clearing debris and invasive vegetation—which exposed much of the site’s soil to sunlight for the first time in years—and planting more than 600 native plant species with help from the New Jersey Audubon Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The more difficult part of the project came in deciding how to improve the actual treatment practices on-site.
The new owner was faced with the options of rehabilitating the existing plant, building a new one onsite, or retiring the plant and pumping sewage to another facility. The project team determined that the relatively small site could not accommodate construction of a new plant while the old one continued to operate next to it.
“The site is encumbered by a flood plain and wetlands, so it’s actually a very small site to work on,” Chiavari says. “When you look at the cost and the physical constraints, the rehab option was the clear winner.”
Owners began renovating the plant in 2009. They vastly overhauled the treatment process, installing two ultraviolet disinfection units that would use light and energy to treat wastewater rather than chemicals. The company also added a disk filtration system to help with waste removal, aerators to improve microbial treatment, a post-aeration tank, and a new generator to improve reliability in the event of a power outage.
By the time the renovations were completed, company officials say that the new and improved treatment plant was easily meeting state discharge limits. They also noticed a boost in the health of the nearby wetlands and stream, as well as an improvement in the aesthetics of the facility.
“When you used to go by the site, it was disheveled, broken down, and visibly in need of repair,” Higgins says. “And now it has been totally restored.”
The NJDEP has praised the work done on the treatment plant, awarding its owner an Environmental Quality Award in 2012, and officially labeling the plant as compliant this year. Several more groups have praised the plant’s revitalization, but Chiavari and Higgins say that perhaps the most profound testament to its success came recently when an employee went fishing near the plant’s discharge point and caught a healthy rainbow trout.
“You don’t have the odor and you don’t have the sheen. Those are things that people will notice,” Chiavari says. “They might not see some of the water quality parameters that we measure in the lab, but they’re definitely going to see the condition of the facility and that it fits in with the neighborhood very well.”