Atmore Utilities dirty job

Published 5:46 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2005

By By Adam Prestridge
If there's a leak in a sewer line or a pump breaks at the wastewater treatment plant, the small staff with the Atmore Utilities Board's wastewater department is called upon to come up with the solution.
It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.
Kenny Smith, Atmore's wastewater superintendent, has worked with the Utilities Board for 14 years and believes wastewater treatment is the city service that is the most misunderstood.
"The biggest misconception is that a lot of people think that wastewater is what comes out of toilets. Wastewater is less than one percent solids and 99 percent liquids. You take showers, wash your clothes, brush your teeth and wash your hands and that is all consider wastewater."
As with the water department, the wastewater department has to run several tests a week to ensure that all chemical levels meet all Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) requirements and that it is suitable to be recycled back into the environment. Smith said it's a tough job, but well worth the extra efforts in the end.
"It's hard keeping up with the rules and regulations and to perform all the test and keep up with all the paperwork involved," he said. "We've got the new cleaning truck and a camera that we've been trying to keep on the streets to survey any damage that we might have received from hurricanes and other incidents. With all that including regular maintenance and keeping the right-of-ways cuts, we don't lack for anything to do any time during year."
The wastewater treatment plant is comprised of a main pump station, three sets of micro screens, two activated basins, a clarifier, a contact chamber and a step system, which all have a purpose in cleaning the water for its release back into the environment. The plant also has an office, which includes a lab and break room, and a storage garage for the department's equipment. It is located on approximately 25 acres on East Avenue behind the National Guard Armory.
Treating the city's sewer water follows a very complex cycle. Wastewater is pumped into the treatment plant's main pump station via sewer lines with the help of 12 lift stations that are scattered throughout the city. It is then cycled through to three sets of micro screens where large particles of waste are filtered out. The wastewater is then sent to one of two activated sludge basins where the movement of the waste, oxygen and the waste itself come together to reduce with the help of bacteria, which eats up the waste.
"Most of the work is done in the activated sludge basins," Smith said.
From there, the wastewater is cycled into the clarifiers where the heavy solids and floatables go to the top and both are returned to the activated sludge basins via screw pump to go through the cycle again. The remaining wastewater is chlorinated and goes through the contact chamber so the chlorine can make contact with all of the water. Sulfur dioxide is then added to the water to kill the bacteria and it is then released over a set of steps to increase the oxygen level before being released into Boggy Branch.
The plant treats about two million gallons per day. ADEM considers the activated sludge plant a Grade 3 plant.
The city's lift stations work to pick wastewater up to a higher level so it can flow to the plant using gravity through terracotta pipe better known as gravity lines. Some wastewater, depending on how far a home is from the treatment plant, travels from lift station to lift station until it reaches its destination.
"The environmental regulations continue to be more stringent and our guys do a wonderful job with complying with those regulations," Utilities Board manager Tom Wolfe said. "I don't want to think about what we would do without them."
Smith said without his employees, who all play vital roles in the treatment of the city's wastewater, the department wouldn't run a smoothly as it does.
"I've got four great employees," Smith said. "They make me look good."
Lab technician Chris McGhee runs the plants in-house laboratory. He has to perform several tests on the water including, Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), Total Suspended Solids (TSS), Nitrogen, Ph, Chlorine, fecal coliform and oxygen, which are performed at least three times a week. ADEM requires that a toxicity test be run quarterly, which is subbed out to ERA Labs in Auburn. The plants other employees include, Cary Jordan, Mark Boyington and Sam Hudson.
The treatment plant has been undergoing several changes the past several weeks including the installation of a Supervisory Control Acquisition Data Analysis (SCADA) system, which is used for security and informational purposes. The SCADA system reports the status of the city's lift stations via computer and antennas without having to leave the plant. Alarms also go off in the event something goes wrong with the lift stations, the plant or if there is an intruder. If any incidents occur during off hours, the SCADA system sends a message to Smith's pager.
"It's going to be a big help, especially during hurricanes more so with water than with wastewater because it will let you know what water level we're at," Smith said. "It will let me know if we're on regular power or backup power and if the power is down or if we've got a seal gone bad in a pump, how many amps each pump is pulling."
Control Systems Incorporated out of Jackson, Miss. is currently installing the SCADA system, which has a price tag of $300,000. Completion of the installation is expected to be complete within a couple weeks.
The plant is also receiving several cosmetic-type repairs to its garage such as roll down garage doors after being damaged during recent hurricanes.

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