New pumps make wastewater crystal clear in Smithfield

New pumps make wastewater crystal clear in Smithfield

Veolia Project Manager Karen Goff and Town Engineer Kevin Cleary show off the new Actiflo pumps installed at the Smithfield Wastewater Treatment Facility, at which Veolia is a contractor. The installation, prompted by new federal regulations, cost $7.3 million and brings wastewater contaminants well below their limits.

SMITHFIELD - The effluent that in March brought home top prize for excellence in clarity and scent just got a little bit cleaner.

Five-and-a-half years of work on the town's wastewater treatment facility have come to an end, providing $7.3 million worth of upgrades to bring zinc and phosphorus levels lower, per federal regulations.

Gone is the circa-2005 cloth filtration method of removing sediment, in which special fabrics were used to filter the water toward the end of a 24-hour process.

Replacing them are pumps that are already proving to do the job more effectively. The chlorination, and then de-chlorination, procedures following this treatment remain the same.

During a tour of the Esmond Mill Drive plant last week, Town Engineer Kevin Cleary said he could see the bottom of a 12-foot-deep water container for the first time.

"This is very impressive," he said. "You could never see this before."

Smithfield Waste Water Treatment Facility is run by Veolia Water, a company whose services have been contracted by the town since 2002.

Project Manager Karen Goff said this new Actiflo treatment is the first of its kind to be installed in the state. It introduces ferric into the water, which coagulates so phosphorus and zinc can be extracted, she explained, when micro-sand is introduced into the mix. The phosphorus and zinc attach to sand and drop to the bottom, leaving the now filtered water on top.

Since being installed, Goff said the pumps have brought zinc levels down from 64 micrograms/liter to 40, lower than the 50 micrograms/liter regulation, while phosphorus levels have decreased from the mandated 0.2 micrograms/liter to "well below" 0.1.

"We're meeting and exceeding the new limits," Cleary said.

Approval was granted in 2009 to begin the upgrades, with construction by Daniel O'Connell's Sons Inc. of Holyoke, Mass. starting in 2012. Wright-Pierce provided environmental design and engineering services.

The work was funded in part by a $1.4 million grant from the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency, Cleary said, but also required what he called "a small incremental increase" for sewer rate payers, a group that makes up 60 to 65 percent of the town.

Rates will be increased from $280 to approximately $330 for a standard user over a period of years, he said.

This project was the first big overhaul since 2005, Cleary said, and it was driven by concerns for aquatic habitats.

Phosphorus inhibits algae growth that produces oxygen in the water, he said, and zinc is a heavy metal that has carcinogenic properties.

Goff said water from the Smithfield plant is now cleaner than the Woonasquatucket River it empties into.

Smithfield Town Engineer Kevin Cleary looks over the railing into chlorinated effluent with Karen Goff, Veolia project manager who runs the town's treatment plant. Cleary said the installation of new filtration pumps has for the first time made this water clear enough to see the bottom 12 feet below. (Valley Breeze & Observer photos by Meghan Kavanaugh)