Murphy’s Law Hits Hooksett Treatment Plant

As I See It
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Bill Sargent, The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition February 29, 2020

“Bruce Kudrick had a problem. The head of the Hooksett wastewater treatment plant explained it to Steve Sylvan of Graves Engineering.

“We have almost twice as many people as when we built this plant. Now the EPA wants us to expand our capacity from 1.1 million gallons a day to 2.2 MGD’s.”

“You could build another aerator tank.”

“That’s what the EPA would like us to do but we don’t have the money and we don’t have the space. We would have to remove that hill over there.”

“There is something else you could do.”

“What’s that?”

“Increase the surface area so your decomposing bacteria have more room to live and multiply.”

“How do we do that without building another tank?”

“There is a new largely untried technology that is really quite simple.”

“So what is it?”

“Steve pulled a two-inch white disc out of his shirt pocket.

“If you simply put about nine million of these little guys into your tank it will be like adding 80 acres of new surface area.”

“If you simply put about nine million of these little guys into your tank it will be like adding 80 acres of new surface area.”

“Do we have to attach them to anything?”

“Nope just leave them floating free in your tank.

“They will roil around in the aerator stream happily breaking down your waste and growing more bacteria.”

“Eighty-one acres of new bacteria on a three-acre site. Pretty darn impressive.”

“They also help remove nitrogen which the EPA is starting to require.”

“OK, I’m sold!”

“But things didn’t work out as Bruce had planned.

“It started to rain on Sunday, March 6, 2011. It wasn’t a severe storm – only two inches of rainfall total – but it was enough to swell the Merrimack Valley’s brooks and streams and send water from people’s sump pumps and French drains into the plant.

“Millions of the free-floating discs bunched up and clogged a screen preventing wastewater from flowing through the system. This caused the tank to overflow all night long. When the operator came on Monday morning 300,000 gallons of wastewater and more than 4 million discs had washed into the Merrimack River.1

“The river was brown and fetid for several days but nobody would have noticed if it weren’t for those pesky white discs. After five days they had floated out of the mouth of the river and ocean currents eventually carried them north to Nova Scotia, south through the Cape Cod Canal and east as far as France and England.

“The press referred to the discs as filters and the public glommed onto the erroneous idea that the discs were the problem, either the discs had been swept out of pipes or simply swept off of a shelf somewhere in the plant.

“But the discs had been doing their job, allowing the plant to expand its capacity by adding 8.6 million little bacterial gardens in its aerator tank and saving the town more than $1 million.

“The real problem was the thousands of gallons of wastewater that all of the plants on the river were releasing wastewater during storms. However, it had become a largely unnoticed problem only darkening the river for a few days but closing beaches, shellfish beds, and fishing areas.

“In that sense, the Hooksett discs had served a useful purpose because they had raised the public’s awareness of a problem that was going to affect their health and environment for decades to come.

1See Sewage Disks Are Just The Latest Form of Merrimack River Pollution

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