Salisbury wastewater plant surpasses regulations

Engineer Amanda Pollack, Director of Infrastructure and Development for the city of Salisbury, outlines a series of improvements that have been achieved at the wastewater treatment facility.

Wearing a reflective safety vest and hardhat, Mayor Jake Day, standing behind a podium at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, announced improvements that will not only better serve the community, but also protect the Wicomico River and Chesapeake Bay.

“This is the point where we treat over 8 and one-half million gallons a day of wastewater that goes the through the city’s wastewater treatment plant,” Day told those attending a news conference Tuesday.

“This is the largest treatment plant on the Eastern Shore and … a very important part of our infrastructure,” he said.

“This is something we want to treat well, we want to treat with respect. It’s a signature part of our region. It’s something we want to take great care of,” he said.

The city has made “dramatic improvements in the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the city’s wastewater effluent during the past two months,” the mayor said.

Guidelines set in 2010 required total nitrogen concentrations to be 8 milligrams per liter and phosphorus concentrations to be 2 milligrams per liter.

In 2018 they were set again, requiring nitrogen to be 4 milligrams per liter with a goal of 3, and phosphorus concentrations at 0.3 milligrams per liter.

“This past November, the new facility began accepting all flow from the city. Essentially, we flipped a $52 million switch and the results were dramatic. During 2017, total nitrogen concentration – which had averaged 24.34 milligrams per liter — dropped to 3.97 milligrams per liter and total phosphorus – which had averaged 0.5 milligrams per liter — fell to 0.05 milligrams per liter,” Day said.

“We’re talking about a plant which, technically, isn’t fully online just yet. Substantial completion is scheduled for this coming April, with final acceptance on May 30. When the remaining parts of the system are fully operational, we expect even better results than we’re already seeing – and what we’re already seeing is tremendous,” he said.

“Since the system was turned on in early December, the city has not only met, but surpassed, by a significant amount, the levels set forth in its current permit,” he said.

During the past decade, the plant has undergone construction to bring it into compliance with environmental standards. Soon after bringing the new facility online, it became obvious the treatment process wasn’t working.

“It was sound in theory, but unproven at the scales required by a municipality of over 30,000residents. We had to go back to Square One,” Day said.

“City leaders pursued legal remedies and were able to recoup a significant portion of the money that had been spent on the project. Work was undertaken yet again to overhaul the plant – this time with contractor Ulimann Schutte at the helm,” Day said.

Now, there have been “dramatic improvements in the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the city’s wastewater effluent during the past two months,” he said.

He explained as work continued, stopgap measures were put in place to keep the existing plant operational.

“We knew that we wouldn’t be able to meet the mandated levels for nitrogen and phosphorous, which had been established in our 2010 permit, so the city budgeted $50,000 per year to cover the fines we faced. In total, Salisbury’s responsibility was $236,000, which MDE allowed us to use on environmental projects within the city rather than paying it directly in fines,” he said.

“This is the plant,” he said, smiling, “that we’ve been working toward since 2010.”

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