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County to test new wastewater treatment process

August 25, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners voted Tuesday to spend more than $200,000 for a pilot study to test a new wastewater treatment process at the county's Winebrenner Wastewater Treatment Plant, which serves the Cascade area.

The new technology, called BioMag, uses a magnetic mineral to make sewage material settle faster, making treatment more effective, Washington County Environmental Management Director Julie A. Pippel said.

If the technology works as hoped, it will provide a cost-efficient way of upgrading the plant to the Enhanced Nutrient Removal standards required by the state of Maryland, Pippel said.

The discharge of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater treatment is one of the most serious problems affecting the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment Web site. Excessive nutrients in the Bay cause algae blooms in the water, which leads to oxygen depletion and other adverse impacts on water quality, the Web site said. Excessive algae growth can also block sunlight that is critical to support plant and aquatic life, the site said.

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The commissioners voted unanimously to pay $224,850 for Cambridge Water Technology Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., to conduct the study.

If the system works as expected, that upfront cost will be credited toward the total project cost, Pippel said. If it does not, the company will refund the money, she said.

BioMag has been used effectively in other states with less-strict nutrient removal requirements, but would need to be tested to ensure it can produce the results required in Maryland, she said.

The Winebrenner Wastewater Treatment Plant on Pen-Mar Road near Fort Ritchie is one of two county-owned wastewater treatment plants that process more than 500,000 gallons per day, making them subject to the state's Enhanced Nutrient Removal standards, Pippel said. The other plant subject to those standards is the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant on Elliott Parkway near Williamsport, she said.

The Maryland Department of the Environment suggested the county look into BioMag, Pippel said.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said if BioMag works, it would save the county money because it concentrates the sewage, requiring less tank space. The size of the tank is one of the biggest factors influencing construction expenses, Murray said.

Murray estimated BioMag would save the county 30 percent to 60 percent of the cost of upgrading to Enhanced Nutrient Removal.

The cost of the BioMag system will not be known until after the pilot study because it depends on the size of the equipment needed, Pippel said.

Pippel said she anticipates the state will fund about 60 percent of the cost of the upgrade.

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