Water Online

January 2017

Water Innovations gives Water and Wastewater Engineers and end-users a venue to find project solutions and source valuable product information. We aim to educate the engineering and operations community on important issues and trends.

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By Allison Fore S ince the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) was created in 1889, it has worked to clean and protect the local waterways by treating wastewater and managing stormwater. Much can change in 127 years, and the evolution of the MWRD's work with solids generated by the wastewater treatment process offers a prime example of that change. The MWRD serves an equivalent population of 10.35 million people in an 883-square-mile area, covering nearly all of Cook County, IL, which includes Chicago and 128 suburban communities. To meet the demands of the vast amount of waste generated by the region, the MWRD owns and operates seven water reclamation plants and 22 pumping stations. The MWRD treats an average of 1.4 billion gallons of wastewater each day, with the capacity to treat over two billion gallons per day. 40 Years Of Successful Biosolids Use For the past four decades, the MWRD has successfully used biosolids to reclaim land, support agriculture, enhance recreational areas, restore and replenish the tree canopy, partner with community gardens, create green landscapes, and use for educational purposes. There are more than 100 users fertilizing golf courses and athletic fields at public parks and school grounds with biosolids. A safe, nutrient-rich, organic product resulting from the wastewater treatment process, the use of biosolids leads to cost reductions, improved soil quality, and increased water retention. Beginning in the 1940s, the early days of wastewater treatment, the solids generated were sent to landfills. However, in step with the environmental movement of the 1970s that saw the birth of the U.S. EPA and the Clean Water Act, the MWRD purchased 14,000 acres of strip-mined land in downstate Fulton County, IL, and set about restoring the severely degraded land back to usable real estate using MWRD biosolids. Known as "The Prairie Plan," MWRD biosolids were barged 200 miles south along the Illinois River and were distributed over the property as a way to recycle urban wastes safely into the natural environment. The Prairie Plan transformed thousands of acres of strip-mined soil into productive agricultural land where corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay have flourished for decades. The project also produced some of the best outdoor recreational property in the state; the property is now home to abundant wildlife, including a healthy deer herd, wild turkey, quail, and waterfowl. The Prairie Plan received the American Society of Civil Engineers' Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award for 1974. A Temporary Setback At the same time the MWRD was developing and implementing the Prairie Plan, it had also developed a sewage sludge product called NuEarth, which was air-dried Imhoff sludge, and given away for horticultural uses. Between the 1970s and 1990s, however, scientists raised concerns about the levels of heavy metals that were found in biosolids throughout the U.S., so distribution came to a halt. In 1986, the MWRD implemented pretreatment and industrial waste programs that led to drastic reductions in the concentration of metals in biosolids. The trace metals found in most biosolids produced today far exceed federal Exceptional Quality standards. Trace metals such as copper, molybdenum, nickel, 28 wateronline.com n Water Innovations Evolving From Controlled Biosolids Distribution To Revenue-Generating Compost At a time when there is growing scrutiny over fertilizers and pesticides, we are supporting a natural trend that is both resourceful to our environment and also our taxpayers. Chicago continues its long tradition of innovative biosolids management by introducing a new model for sustainability and community service.

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