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Wastewater - Past, Present, and Future

Wastewater treatment hasn't always been modern or effective. A little over a century ago, wastewater in Kalamazoo was sent directly to the Kalamazoo River or its tributaries. Around the world, sending raw, untreated sewage to rivers is still a common practice. Such unsafe practices result in polluted rivers, diseases such as Cholera, Typhoid, Dysentery, Polio and Hepatitis, and destruction of plants and animals.
In 1881, the Village of Kalamazoo acknowledged the need to control its wastewater by constructing a separate collection system for sanitary sewage. However, because populations were small and manufacturing caused little environmental damage, there was little need to treat wastewater until several decades later. In 1955, Kalamazoo built its first wastewater treatment plant. This plant processed 12 million gallons of wastewater per day using a simple process of solids removal through settling.

Public concerns about environmental degradation in the 1960s resulted in increasingly stringent effluent requirements. During the 1960s, the citizens of Kalamazoo and the industrial community began a partnership to improve sewage treatment capabilities for residents of Kalamazoo County. Advanced treatment facilities for removal of dissolved solids began operation in 1967. Improved facilities for processing biosolids - solids removed from the wastewater - became operational in June 1971.

With the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, Congress made a commitment to restore the nations water resources. Projections indicated that effluent requirements would become more restrictive and sanitary service needs of communities would increase. Again, the citizens of Kalamazoo worked with the environmental and industrial communities, this time conducting pilot studies to determine the most cost-effective means of meeting current and future requirements. With federal assistance, the community embarked on a long series of construction projects to upgrade the Kalamazoo plant. This development was completed in 1987.

The City of Kalamazoo Water Reclamation Plant (KWRP) currently provides treatment services to more than 180,000 residents in 18 Kalamazoo area municipal jurisdictions. Additionally, the KWRP maintains a septage receiving station for solids disposal for the remaining residents who are not connected directly to the collection system.

The KWRP uses an innovative treatment system to treat a variety of pollutants in concentrations that most other plants cannot. The plant incorporates powdered activated carbon treatment (PACT) into its secondary process. With a PACT process, the plant treats wastewater from a variety of industries without the need for pretreatment.

The KWRP currently receives more than 50% of its wastewater from industrial sources. Manufacturers that produce pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals, spices and food additives, as well as projects associated from groundwater clean-up and remediation of contaminated groundwater directly benefit from the PACT process. By providing these businesses with state-of-the-art, unique wastewater treatment, the KWRP helps the community attract and retain employers who offer opportunities to skilled and educated residents.

To perform treatability studies on process changes and high-strength waste streams from prospective industrial users the KWRP build a pilot plant in 1995. The Pilot Plant offers a dual train biological PACT system with tertiary sand filtration. In the Pilot Plant, operators can test waste streams, chemicals and plant modifications without placing the environment at risk. Since becoming operational in February 1996, Pilot Plant studies led to operation changes in the KWRP that yielded over $500,000 in savings (as of July 1, 1997), with more on the horizon.

The Pilot Plant has a greater purpose than improving operations at the KWRP. Wastewater research is generally theoretical; but research performed in the Pilot Plant is practical. The Pilot Plant staff eagerly look for opportunities to experiment and perform research on the activated sludge process.

The Pilot Plant is also a key economic development tool. Area manufacturers hoping to develop new processes, or companies who may wish to locate in Kalamazoo need to know that their waste discharge is treatable without extreme and expensive pretreatment. The Pilot Plant can help these companies in their planning stages.

As wastewater treatment becomes more sophisticated, Kalamazoo hopes to remain at the forefront of development through its Pilot Plant.