Wastewater treatment facility replaced after 39 years

Eoghan Holdahl- Staff Writer

Contributed Photo

The Municipal Utilities of Sioux Center spent roughly 26,500,000 dollars and used 55,000 bricks to build a new wastewater treatment facility this year. Its completion was celebrated this past month. They also laid 24,000 feet of pipe and put in over 150,000 hours of labor. The old facility had been built in 1981 and the town, not to mention Dordt University, has grown considerably in size and environmental impact in the forty years since. So, replacing the facility was seen by local officials as unavoidable.

Technologies required upgrades to new standards, which allowed for the construction of new ultraviolet disinfection, an online software to monitor the operations, and automatic rakes to sift out the largest contaminants from the sewage. In the old plant, the employees used hand rakes.

“We would have to do this twice a day—and we weren’t getting out ninety percent of what we’re getting out now,” Zeke Ellis, the sewer department supervisor, said.

Ellis knows the facility like the back of his hand. He walks through the wastewater treatment process step by step.

After sewage enters the facilities through a 24” pipe, it is raked, scoured by bacteria in an oxygen-free basin, then aerated and tossed about while oxygen-loving bacteria disinfect it.

“Right now, we’re built for the future obviously. You know, we don’t just build these for today, or years, we build for twenty or forty years,” said Ellis, pointing to blower motors as tall as a full-grown man. “Everything’s a little bigger than we need right now,”

After the raking process, the removal of nitrogen and phosphorus via bacteria follows, then clarification, and finally ultraviolet filtering. The old plant possessed no ultraviolet process, which constitutes a significant upgrade.

“This is a new treatment process for all of us, so we’re learning the ins and outs and trying to figure out what’s going on,” Ellis said.

Contributed Photo

The SCADA software (supervisory control and data acquisition) stands as one of the newest systems to get used to. It takes inputs from the pumps and other motors and sends it back to a central computer. Much to the pleasure of Ellis, the SCADA makes it far easier to see patterns emerge in the general operative health of the system. SCADA also facilitates the control of the plant. In the control center, Ellis can see all the pumps and buildings displayed on a monitor.

“We were transferring sludge, now we just controlled it and actually turned off a pump by just clicking a couple buttons,” Ellis said.

Dr. Jeff Ploegstra, associate professor of biology at Dordt, considers the construction of the new plant a necessary action in light of the economic and population growth of Sioux Center. He points out when the old facility was built in 1981, the Pella Corporation and other large businesses had not yet established themselves in Sioux Center. Dordt University (then just a college) was also smaller and exerted less of a load on the wastewater system

“This is a response to a growing population and part of that is Dordt.” Ploegstra said. “The things you flush down your toilet have to go somewhere.”

At the treatment facility, employees expressed their appreciation of the new plant as more than just a way to get rid of waste.

“ We have the ability in this community to not only build something that’s environmentally friendly, but also visually friendly.” Ellis said. “

We’re pretty proud of what we’ve got here.”

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