Narragansett Bay Commission?s Field?s Point Wastewater Treatment Facility Improvements Demonstrate Model for Efficiency

Narragansett Bay

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) recently hosted its Utility Leadership and Annual Meeting in Providence, R.I. It was also a celebration of NACWA?s 45th anniversary. The conference program specifically focused on ?financing funding and rates for the future.?

As public utilities have embraced the principles and practices of the Water Resources Utility of the Future (UOTF), they have begun to stretch the boundaries of conventional municipal financing and have now begun to look for new sources of capital. This includes the potential use of innovative financing approaches including public-private partnerships for discrete projects (such as those focused on UOTF issues), century and green bonds, creative rate structures, and more.?

NACWA?s recent conference examined the concept known as the ?city of the future,? the right balance between sustainable rates and affordability concerns, the U.S. EPA?s evolving role in funding and financing, the optimization of public agency engagement with the private sector and innovation funding to help pave the way for the? Water Reources UOTF.

The recent NACWA conference also including presentations delivered by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo. Raimondo noted a recent bill that was passed ? legislation to protect the water supplies of Rhode Island. The bill will also enable the replacement of old wastewater systems. As noted by Raimondo, ?This legislation not only protects our environment?we will be taking important steps towards improving the water quality of Narragansett Bay, our beaches and our drinking water.?

A critical component of the NACWA event were the presentations made by senior directors of the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC).?

A presentation was delivered by NBC?s Director of Planning, Policy, and Regulation, Thomas Uva, as part of the Climate & Resiliency Committee meeting. Uva reviewed the NBC?s many initiatives to help mitigate the efforts of sea level rise on facilities while becoming more energy independent. He reinforced that the concept of climate change is real. He reminded the audience that the NBC is looking to address flood and inundation concerns as well as carbon footprint issues.

Wastewater plants/systems around the state and around the country need to better address the potential impact of climate change on their operations. Uva noted that ?wastewater agencies/plants are the most vulnerable to climate change and sea level rise due to their low elevation location along rivers and bays. Addressing climate change is going to be expensive for wastewater plants, but not addressing it is going to be far more expensive.?

Additionally, the opening plenary of the NACWA Conference included a presentation by the Chairman of the Narragansett Bay Commission, Vincent Mesolella.

Narragansett BayMesolella talked about the history of the NBC, noting that the Narragansett Bay Water Quality District Commission was formed in 1980. He reminded the audience that the mission of the Commission is to maintain a leadership role in the protection and enhancement of water quality in Narragansett Bay and its tributaries by providing safe and reliable wastewater collection and treatment services to its customers at a reasonable cost.??

Today, the Narragansett Bay Commission owns and operates Rhode Island?s two largest wastewater treatment plants along with an extensive infrastructure of interceptors, pump stations, tide gates and combined sewers.?

One of the wastewater treatment plants under the Commission?s domain is the Field?s Point Wastewater Treatment Facility.??

Constructed in 1901 and reconstructed in the 1980s, ?Field?s Point? provides secondary treatment for flows of up to 77 million gallons per day (MGD), and primary treatment and disinfection for an additional 123 MGD of wet weather flows. Total treatment capacity is 200 MGD.

It is also useful to note that the NBC also owns, operates and maintains three outlying pump stations in the Field?s Point service area. The Washington Park and Reservoir Avenue Pump Stations located within the City of Providence and the Central Avenue?Pump Station in Johnston. The Ernest Street Pump Station is located adjacent to the Field?s Point facility and handles 98 percent of the flow to Field?s Point.

The NBC maintains six permanent flow metering stations to measure flow from Johnston and North Providence to Field?s Point. The NBC is engaged in a long-term construction program to minimize overflows from its combined sewers.

Narragansett BayJust 15 years after the U.S. EPA singled out Field?s Point as one of the worst treatment plants in the United States, the facility received the EPA?s award for Best Large Secondary Treatment Facility in the country in 1995. In 1998, the NBC?s Pretreatment Program received the EPA award as the Best Pretreatment Program in the United States for the second time. In the 20 years since the 1995 EPA honor, the Field?s Point facility has won many other awards for design, operations, maintenance, energy management and safety.

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) also recognized the NBC back in 2014 at its annual conference with a National Water Quality Improvement Award.

According to Mesolella, ?When the Narragansett Bay Commission was created in 1982, we knew our task was enormous. The Field?s Point Wastewater Treatment Facility was one of the largest municipal polluters in the nation. To now be recognized nationally, repeatedly, as one of the nation?s finest success stories in clean water is a testament to the commitment of the NBC Board of Commissioners, the dedicated staff and the voters of Rhode Island who consistently support important clean water initiatives.?

As part of the conclusion of NACWA?s 2015 Utility Leadership Conference, a number of attendees were privileged to take a private tour of NBC?s Field?s Point Wastewater Treatment Facility. On the tour, attendees learned about the innovative work at the facility, including the use of wind turbines to generate power.? It was noted by facility senior staff conducting the tour that the administration building has achieved Silver LEED certification. Some of the current buildings at the facility are some of the original buildings from when the facility was initially constructed in 1901.?

Attendees of the tour were reminded that the City of Providence ran the treatment facility for 81 years ? from 1901 until 1982. NBC then took over the running of the Field?s Point Wastewater Treatment Facility in 1982-83.

Tour attendees were also reminded that Field?s Point treats wastewater from four Rhode Island communities, including the capital city of Providence,? and many of the sewer lines transporting flow to the facility date back to the mid-19th century.

It was noted that Field?s Point features the largest application in the world of the Integrated Fixed Film Activated Sludge (IFAS) system for the biological removal of nitrogen from wastewater and that 48 percent of the facility?s energy is provided by three 1.5 mW wind turbines and a state-of-the-art control system facilitates daily operations.

?In Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls, R.I., we have the added challenge of having combined sewers,? says Thomas Brueckner, engineering manager for the NBC. ?This means that we experience storm-related discharges of sanitary sewage mixed with stormwater during periods of heavy rains. These discharges ? combined sewer overflows (CSOs) ? are illegal under the federal Clean Water Act.?

In 2008, to meet the agency?s obligation under the law, the NBC brought online a 65-million gallon capacity deep rock tunnel to store CSO flows. The three-mile long, 300-ft deep tunnel captures and stores storm-related flow and pumps the flow to Field?s Point for treatment. The tunnel is the centerpiece of the first phase of the NBC?s three-phase comprehensive long term control plan for CSOs. In the six years since the tunnel has been in operation, the NBC has captured and treated more than 6.6 billion gallons of CSO flow, bathing beach closures due to bacterial contamination have been reduced by 85 percent, and Rhode Island?s shellfish fishermen have access to the fertile waters of Upper Narragansett Bay approximately 55 additional days per year.

According to Brueckner, Phase II went online in late 2014, and the final phase has just been re-evaluated to consider newly emerging issues such as incorporation of green infrastructure and community affordability. ?And we?re not alone in this,? Brueckner added. ?Nearly 800 communities in the United States have combined sewers and face similar challenges.?

Finally, it is worth noting that Field?s Point Executive Director Raymond Marshall credits the success of the facility and the NBC as a whole to the great team effort and atmosphere that is a part of the NBC?s culture. ?The Board, staff and management are all focused on making the agency the very best that it can be,? Marshall says. ?We are always working to improve the quality of our receiving waters and the way business is conducted.?

With so many individuals from other communities/water systems on the tour, it will be interesting to watch which municipalities around the country duplicate the Field?s Point model.? Stay tuned.

Kathy Shandling is the executive director of the International Private Water Association (IPWA) and a frequent contributor to UIM.

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