City spends millions to treat waste water

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 Messenger photo by John Matuszak
 Dean Posekany, left, plant manager at the Southerly Waste Water Treatment Plant Headworks, explains the operation to Columbus City Council members Andrew Ginther and Priscilla Tyson at the Dec. 17 dedication of the new $106 million facility. The expansion increases the plant’s capacity to 260 million gallons of waste  water a day.

Mayor Michael Coleman and Columbus City Council are flushing $106 million down the drain, and there’s more to come.

But rather than an example of government waste, the expenditures are part of a $2.5 billion, 40-year plan to improve waste water treatment in central Ohio.

"This is the Grand Central Station for sewage in central Ohio," Coleman said Dec. 17 as he and other officials dedicated the new Southerly Waste Water Treatment Plant Headworks on South High Street.

The completion of the facility increases the plant’s capacity to 260 million gallons per day, a 50 percent jump, explained Coleman, standing atop the eight stories of concrete and steel that house the giant pipes and filters.

When six additional projects at Southerly are completed by the end of 2010, the capacity will reach 330 million gallons a day.

"That’s a lot of stuff," Coleman commented.

The expansion is needed to reduce storm water overflow and back-ups into basements, as well as to make the water released into rivers cleaner. It will also accommodate the 300,000 to 500,000 additional residents expected to call the area home in the next 20 years.

The improvements at Southerly, which serves the area east of I-71, and $100 million in improvements at the Jackson Pike plant, which handles sewage from west of I-71, are expected to fill the region’s needs for 100 years.

Engineers began to design the Southerly plant in 1999, and construction started in May, 2004.

Columbus and other Ohio cities are under a mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the water that is being spilled into rivers and streams.

Paying for it all could have residents holding their noses.

Coleman acknowledged that the projects have required City Council to raise water and sewer rates, including a yearly increase in 2008 of $90 for Columbus residents and $100 for suburban customers.

The city does offer discounts of 15 percent for low-income residents and 10 percent for qualifying senior citizens, Coleman pointed out.

The mayor pointed out that the federal government used to pay up to 75 percent of the cost for upgrades, but those funds have dried up.

Washington might have turned off the tap to cities, but the flow of effluence keeps coming, making the larger plants necessary.

Southerly has pipes big enough to drive a dump truck through, and its three pumps that can each lift 110 million gallons of waste water a day.

The main job of the plant is to remove dirt, sand and other solid objects from the water before it moves on to treatment plants.

This is accomplished through a series of screens and tanks, explained plant manager Dean Posekany, a 27-year employee.

The process used to clean the waste water hasn’t changed much in that time, according to Posekany, but the materials have improved and can screen out more sediment.

Four stainless steel screens with thousands of quarter-inch holes trap materials that are then moved on conveyors for disposal. The holes in the old screens were a half-inch.

What does 260 million gallons of raw sewage smell like?

Employees hope that they and nearby residents never have to find out. Ten 40-foot biological odor control towers, measuring 12 feet around, filter 100,000 cubic feet of air per minute.

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