City of Marshfield Wastewater Utility Prepared for Winter Weather

Steven Okonek - TriMedia Photo

Winter Presents Challenges for Wastewater

As temperatures drop, water freezes- which is just one of many natural occurrences that causes challenges for Marshfield Wastewater Utility every year. Lower temperatures also necessitate creative chemistry solutions to ensure that the good bacteria that keep the plant operating smoothly stay happy.

“Because the wastewater plant is all natural, when it gets cold, all of the bacteria slow down,” said Superintendent Sam Warp, Jr. “Starting at the beginning of November, we watch our temperature coming into the plant and we adjust as needed.”

Operating the plant involves a lot of chemistry and technology, carefully balancing bacteria so that the influent (water/product entering the plant) exits the plant (called effluent) in an environmentally friendly condition.

Treatment in Marshfield is a natural process conducted by bacteria and by the more evolutionary advanced protozoa. Bacteria consume much of the waste, while the protozoa, with their more refined taste, consuming what’s left.

“You can easily see the protozoa under a microscope,” said Warp. “The bacteria eat a lot of the big part, but if you want good numbers in your effluent, the protozoa do more of the ‘polishing’.”

Staff’s aim is to provide the right temperature, right age, and right amount of food for the bacteria and protozoa, to keep the plant running smoothly. Marshfield, with a very advanced and chemically revolutionary system, has several advantages with its setup.

“Our setup is very forgiving compared to others, as long as you stay at the temperature that the bugs like,” said Warp, adding that there are challenges to having a one-of-a-kind facility.

“We’re the only ones that operate the plant like we do, so there’s nobody to call up, no book to look into,” he said.

Fortunately, the ten employees at Marshfield Wastewater Utility are well-trained and creative, allowing for the plant to operate efficiently even as the weather changes. The transition to winter temperatures is done slowly, making gradual adjustments to ensure the bacteria is able to work efficiently as their speed changes.

“In the summer, some of the bacteria’s food in the plant might be in there for three weeks. This time of year, we are stretching that out a week or two each week,” explained Warp. “By the time January arrives, the food will be in there a month.”

Other challenges Wastewater Utility faces during the colder months concern equipment.

“Some of the equipment, if we take it offline, it’ll freeze solid and then you can’t use it until it thaws out in the spring,” explained Warp. “This time of year, we’re planning how we’re going to run all winter, choosing which pumps and which tanks to keep operational. Once we decide, we have to live by that. We can’t change it until spring.”

Winter is also the best time for maintenance, including painting. This winter, one of the plant’s three clarifiers will be repaired and updated.

“Your hands get cold and things go slower, but it’s the best time to work on it,” said Warp, adding that cleanup and upkeep on the plant’s lift stations is also completed during the winter months.

As the weather gets colder and camera lenses begin to fog up, wastewater staff are also in the process of concluding final televising (underground assessments with a camera – link here) work for the year.

“We cannot do much televising in the winter, so it’s tough when a homeowner calls and they have a problem, because we aren’t able to use all of our tools,” said Warp. “We can open up the manholes and look in there to see what’s flowing, but in the summer sometimes we are able to take a camera and look to see what’s exactly going on.”

Also on the winter work schedule is something all residents can relate to- snowplowing and shoveling.

“We do that at the plant and at the lift stations, too,” said Warp. “We have to do that ourselves.”

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