Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 13, 2013

Editorial: City can't take chances with wastewater plant


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — There aren’t many things a community absolutely can’t do without, but a source of clean fresh water for drinking, cooking and sanitation is right up there. Just as important is how we clean the water after we’ve used it to prevent contamination.

Traverse City is facing issues on both ends of the cycle — ensuring that the water the city draws from East Bay for drinking water is as clean as it must be, and doing whatever it takes to make sure the city’’s wastewater treatment plant is doing its job.

And it will all cost money.

Back in July the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality twice issued a Significant Deficiency Violation Notice to the city’s water treatment plant because the city failed to use enough coagulant to filter out from the city’s drinking water a pathogen that can cause diarrhea.

Part of that turned out to be an education issue; but the city is also faced with the fact that much of the equipment that provides potable water to Traverse City and tens of thousands of township residents is outdated and needs to be replaced.

Now, a consultant for the company that operates Traverse City’s wastewater treatment plant has warned the city must invest nearly $1 million in new membranes that filter sewage to avoid what he said could be “catastrophic results.”

Scott Levesque, Principal Technologist with the engineering firm CH2M HILL, which runs the plant, said the city must replace membranes in one of eight filtering tanks or face a possible sewage overflow at the treatment plant on the Boardman River.

The membranes are made of hollow fibers so small they filter out bacteria, the secret behind the plant’s ability to turn sewage into water that is near drinking water quality before it empties into the river and, eventually, West Bay. The membranes have an expected eight- to 10-year life span and were installed in 2004. Despite their age they have not shown any reduction in the ability to filter water, known as permeability.

But from time to time the plant experiences growth of a unique bacteria that clogs the membranes and significantly reduces that permeability. If a bacterial bloom happens during a peak flow period, Levesque said, sewage could overflow. He said the membranes could last another two to four years. But they could also clog on the Fourth of July and send sewage spilling into the Boardman and the bay.

Obviously, that cannot be allowed to happen.

If your connection to the sewer system breaks or your septic tank goes belly up, you have essentially zero options — you fix it or move. Moving is not an option.