WWTP construction

Site Inspector Tommy Lawrence explains how much more efficiently the new plant will run once ground water infiltration is reduced while Public Works Supt. Wallace Tomlinson looks on.

Construction of Blackshear’s new wastewater treatment facility off Trudie Road appears to be on schedule and running smoothly.

Work began in earnest in July on the $8.6 million project that includes sewer pipe rehabilitation and new lift stations in addition to the new treatment plant. Project managers told The Times last week they still expect an early Spring 2020 completion date.

According to tax records, the city’s spray fields have been located at the Trudie site since the early 1980s, but two treatment plants on the north and south sides of town will be closed and converted into lift stations to pump waste out to the new facility next year. The old treatment ponds in town will most likely be filled in.

“We have two areas (plants) in town now that will eventually be done away with,” says Wallace Tomlinson, public works superintendent.

“It’s all going to come back through here and then go to the spray fields,” explains Tommy Lawrence, inspector for Hofstadter and Associates, the city’s engineering firm on this project.

Another pond has also been dug at the Trudie Road site, alongside the new treatment system and control house. Last week, construction crews were working to drain the new pond sufficiently so a rubber liner could be installed.

The site now has three ponds (four acres each), and the new system is estimated to cover another seven acres, but the city has ample room for the expansion. The entire parcel is 300 acres and includes a 130 acre spray hay field and 150 acres of pine trees.

When ‘brown trout’ (human waste) leaves your home, it tumbles through city sewer lines to either the North or South Plant. Once the new system is up and running, it will then be pumped through the new lift stations to the treatment facility where it’ll be aerated and filtered in a pond, screened through two 25” deep filtration chambers with a stainless steel screen, sucked into a pump chamber and then sprayed onto the hay field or timberland.

By the time the wastewater is sucked into a pump chamber for distribution to the fields, it’s dubbed “gray water.”

“I wouldn’t drink it, but it would be close,” Lawrence says with a chuckle.

The treatment facility is more of an upgrade than an upsize, Tomlinson says, but is expected to run more efficiently and reduce costs for two reasons  — the city will operate one treatment plant instead of two, and ongoing pipe rehabilitation efforts will reduce the amount of groundwater infiltration into the system.

“Groundwater infiltration is coming out here and we’re treating when it doesn’t need to be treated,” says Chris Wright, special projects manager for the city.

Tomlinson estimates the city needlessly treats an extra half million gallons of groundwater a month when rainfall is 5” or more.

“That’s money the city will get back in savings,” Lawrence says.  

Groundwater infiltrates the system through leaky manholes and busted pipes. Currently, the city is having sewer lines scoped with a camera to document those breaks. (See related story).

Savings from the consolidation of one treatment site will be recognized almost immediately, Wright says. Savings from pipe rehabilitation efforts to reduce groundwater infiltration will be recognized more gradually.

Even though the city’s treatment capacity is not expanding, the facility will accommodate future residential growth if need be.

“We could double our growth,” Tomlinson says.

Locals aren’t likely to see any disruption in service when treatment is transferred from the two old plants to the new one next year  — although those working behind the scenes will be working around the clock for 3-4 days.

“It’s kind of like a chess match. You do this to get this ready,” Tomlinson says.

“But you gotta do it quick,” Lawrence adds.