By Zachary Matson
The village of Lake George is about to turn on a wastewater treatment plant built to resolve a years-long struggle to prevent nutrient pollution into the “Queen of Lakes.”
The new plant is nearly complete as contractors finish the installation of scores of new pumps, water lines, electrical panels and concrete tanks. The system will convert wastewater into treated effluent that will be discharged into sand beds and eventually leach into Lake George.
The plant serves properties in both the village and town of Lake George. The region’s treatment system experiences surges in waste volume during the summer seasons and has exceeded state-mandated discharge targets for nitrates.
The new plant, built with $24 million in state and local dollars, will offer a modern approach known as sequencing batch reactors. While the old system relied on what’s called a trickle filter to enable bacteria with an uncontrolled oxygen source to break down unwanted components of the wastewater, the new approach will allow plant operators to add precise amounts of oxygen.
By limiting the oxygen, bacteria can be forced to break down nitrates as an alternative oxygen source, converting nitrates into nitrogen gas.
“In the new process we supply the oxygen to the bacteria, and if we can supply it, we can take it away,” said Tim Shudt, head plant operator. “All that for just $24 million.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates water pollution and wastewater treatment permits, in 2014 issued a consent order against the Village of Lake George. It required the plant to comply with permitted discharge levels. A 2016 DEC order modified the compliance timeline and gave the village until fall 2021 to complete construction of a new plant. The state in October extended the startup deadline to the end of January.
(The 2016 order noted that the plant operator prior to Shudt had underreported nitrate levels in the plant’s effluent between 2007-2011.)
The plant upgrades “will enhance Lake George’s water quality and continue the village’s efforts to reduce nutrient pollution, which includes state investments totaling $14.9 million,” according to a DEC statement.
Chris Navitsky, the Lake George waterkeeper, said the treatment plant originally built in the 1930s was based on “archaic technology” and has long needed attention to prevent further pollution of the lake.
“Nitrates were a big problem,” Navitsky said. “They didn’t have the technology to properly treat nitrates in that facility.”
In a tour, Shudt said a recent test run turned up a few places where pumps and other parts of the system were not yet functioning as intended. The plant operators are awaiting parts to arrive and hope to soon run clean water through the entire system as a final test. Shudt said he hopes the new system will be operating by the end of January.
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The new plant was built in the open spaces of the existing facility the entire plant, which sits just off the Northway near exit 21, is now a collection of new and old buildings, new and old open-air water tanks. Some of the buildings will be converted to storage units once the old plant is decommissioned.
“It’s been a long process,” he said. “It’s like living with your kitchen torn up for two years.”
Shudt’s office will move to a new administration building, which also includes a lab space, conference room, laundry room, showers and lockers. A large inlay of Lake George on the floor inside the front door was covered with cardboard. The new plant includes more sophisticated pump systems, data collection and electrical controls. Shudt said the plant’s electricity bill will undeniably increase.
The new system starts at the headworks, where pump stations in the village and town of Lake George direct the wastewater of thousands of users. The wastewater is pumped into a channel before it passes through a rotating screen that filters out rags and other large items that find their way into the waste stream. An auger inside what looks like a large metal cannon positioned at a 45-degree angle drives the unwanted items into a trash hopper.
The flow of wastewater splits in two directions – a series of eight gates throughout the headworks enables the treatment crew to shut off parts of the flow if necessary for maintenance or cleaning – and heads toward a grit filter, which removes more inorganic solids.
Since the process in the headworks can produce methane gas, the entire room is explosion proof.
“This is all state-of-the-art stuff,” Shudt said. “That’s what Lake George deserves.”
The plant will be able to handle 1.75 million gallons of wastewater per day, the same as the current plant. Shudt said the plant processes about 1 million gallons during the peak summer season and about half that during the winter months.
After leaving the headworks, the water is pumped to a series of large, open-air tanks, the sequence batch reactors core to the new process. The water tanks are attached to a new building that houses massive pumps and a warren of large pipes. A separate room contains a series of air blowers that compress air from outside and use it to introduce oxygen into the wastewater. Once the tank is filled, the pumps and blowers kick on to aerate and mix the full tank. Bacteria, which is pre-seeded into the large tanks, helps to break down unwanted components of the wastewater.
After about three hours, the aeration and mixing shuts off, and the bacteria start to clump together in search of food sources, breaking down the nitrates. The bacteria slowly settles to the bottom of the tank, filtering the water one last time as it falls to the bottom. A large pump that floats up as the water level in the tank rises decants the clean effluent from the tank and pumps it into another tank, the final step before the water funnels through a last drain and is discharged into the plant’s 28 sand beds.
Excess bacteria is removed to another series of tanks, where it is converted into a sludge with a ratio of about 3 percent solids. That sludge is pumped back to a separate room in the building shared by the headworks. There a large belt press squeezes out as much excess water as possible and pulls out cakes of unwanted organic material, about 25 percent solids, which is trucked away for use in compost.
As he toured the facility, Shudt noted signs of ongoing work and looked forward to putting the construction phase behind him. He also promised to keep the new plant clean, organized and operating as planned.
“It’s gonna stay new too,” he said.
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