Officials at Regional Water Resource Agency are considering whether to expand two existing wastewater treatment plants or build a new one.

Collectively, more than 14 million gallons of wastewater flow through RWRA’s David Hawes plant, at 1722 Pleasant Valley Road, and the Max Rhoads plant, at 1201 Ewing Road North, daily.

While both plants’ hydraulic flow, which is the amount of water that can be pushed through the system, have not reached capacity, it is the increase of residential, industrial and stormwater flow that has caused the need for either expansion or a third plant, said Joe Schepers, RWRA executive director.

“Would I rather add a plant or expand? There are pros and cons to each,” he said. “If you put the plant in the right location, it could open up an area for future development. It has a lot of pros to it. However, your main overriding decision has to take into account that no one wants a treatment plant in their backyard. Residents could be unhappy. Adding a plant adds another outfall into the Ohio River as well, which is a huge permitting headache.”

Over the course of the next few months, agency officials will be crunching the numbers to better gauge whether they should expand the two existing plants or build a third. Schepers would prefer expansion, he said.

“If we can expand on one or both of our existing sites, that would be the best direction,” he said. “That being said, we have to look at a whole matrix of decisions and money before making that call. The bottom line, I would rather expand what we have and keep everything right here.”

While the Max Rhoads plant still has some capacity left, the David Hawes plant is at capacity at its current 5 million gallons of daily flow, forcing RWRA officials to get “innovative” as they figure out their next steps, said Victor Cernius, RWRA director of operations.

“Right now we are dosing with some bioaugmentation with designer bacteria,” he said. “We have also been diverting some of the loading to help with treatment capacity. We are constantly working with consultants (and) academics as well as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), as well as local industries to find solutions to meet the needs of the community.”

A major addition to RWRA’s practices has been the switch to ultraviolet disinfection, he said.

“With the traditional chlorinated disinfection, it takes 30 minutes to disinfect the flow,” he said. “With UV, it takes 30 seconds of exposure. Especially when we are experiencing heavy flow due to rain events, that 30 minutes could be problematic. There are a lot of these systems going in across the country. Europe made the swap. Here, because of the technology efficiency, it is catching on and we believe we are with the trend.”

The Max Rhodes plant, a combined sewer system plant, processes not only daily waste but the subsequent increase brought in through storm and rainwater, pushing the plant ever closer to its capacity limits, said Cernius.

“Typically, dry day flow is 9 million gallons a day,” he said. “In a significant rain event, that plant may see 30 (million) to 35 million gallons over a short time. This morning we hit 35 million gallons for a short time. Because that plant is a combined flow, we have a little capacity remaining. At that plant, it is more of a challenge in balancing the variability in flow rates because we have a lot of industrial here which makes a unique balance between industry and other types.”

Over the past 15 years, RWRA has extended its service at a rate of four-and-a-half miles annually. Since its creation, the agency has absorbed the flow from 37 packaging plants and 2000 septic tanks. Between the two plants, roughly 65,000 people are served.

The path forward in making their final decision is not so much based on current needs, but those down the road, Schepers said.

“It all boils down to what is best for the community and the future of increased service,” he said. “I don’t care as much about tomorrow, I care about where we will be in five, 10 or 30 years from now. Our decision will be based on what is best decades down the line. We should have the final report in May and will provide the board with a summary in June or July. We’ll make our final recommendation around the third quarter. We obviously can’t kick the can down the road. If going through the numbers tells us that a third plant is what is best, then that is the way we will go.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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