Unhappy treatment



To the Editor:

Thanks go to reporter Mark Good for his recent Islander article about Southwest Harbor’s sewer plant deficiencies, which makes it sound as though installing a few safety railings, fixing some grates, replacing some testing gadgets and keeping better operational notes will take care of things.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and new utility manager Steven Kenney has a big job on his hands. A bit of basic biology will explain why.

In a treatment plant like ours, the sewage goes through screens to take out things that got dropped in the toilet by accident (diapers, toys, maybe not goldfish). Then grit and grease get removed. In the clarifier tanks, the sewage gets stirred around and broken into smaller pieces to make a larger surface area so the bacteria that will do the hard work can reach it and do their work.

At this point, the pH (acidity) of the gunk has to be tested and corrected. Like a vegetable garden that might need some lime, the sewage might need some sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to make conditions right for the living organisms that do the real work.

Next the sewage goes into the aeration tank, where bacteria and other microbes digest the stuff, using plenty of oxygen to break down their “food” and using its energy to grow and multiply. After time for the microbes to do their work, the gunk gets separated into sludge and effluent, the water that will be disinfected with chlorine and released into the harbor. Some of the sludge goes back into the tank, like compost in the garden, to help digest the next batch. Most of it settles out and is trucked off to be dried, disinfected and sent to a landfill.

Sounds simple, if dirty. But if the pH meter is broken, the acidity can’t be tested and corrected, and unhappy bacteria don’t multiply and digest the sludge. This has gone on for quite a while. The result is several feet of old sludge in the bottom of each of the chambers in the treatment plant. This will require a major clean-out before spring rains and summer chlorination begin.

Steve Kenney, with his technical know-how and his “can do” attitude, has spent and will be and spending long hours to correct these problems.

The people of Southwest Harbor owe him and his staff a big “thank you” for helping to clean up our system.

Lydia Goetze

Southwest Harbor

 

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