Award-winning Millsboro water treatment plant to green the grass and the environment

One day in the very near future, Millsboro Public Works Director Kenny Niblett will attend a baseball game at the local Little League Park, possessing intimate details of how the grass is kept so green and so lush at his town’s very own “field of dreams.”

It’s only one use that Niblett, who has served as the town’s public works director since 1992, is planning for discharge of Millsboro’s wastewater, described by engineers as being “super clean” since the 2009 upgrade of the town’s wastewater treatment facility.

“There isn’t anyone alive who makes water. We continuously reclaim and recycle it, and we figured we can do a lot more of that now with the new system,” said Niblett. “We now have a wastewater treatment plant that will take us well into the future, which is all part of our beneficial reuse program.”

Resting on the shores of the Indian River, the $19 million treatment facility opened its doors just a little more than two years ago. An engineering marvel when it was finally completed, it has allowed Millsboro to treat more wastewater, and treat it much better.

Due to the relatively small piece of land on which it sits, creating the new facility was a challenge, to say the least. But the limitations the project presented soon gave way to ingenuity and to one of the most prestigious awards in American engineering circles.

CABE Associates, the Town of Millsboro’s engineering firm, won the American Council of Engineering Companies of Delaware’s (ACEC) most highly sought-after award in 2010 for its work on the facility. The Engineering Excellence Grand Conceptor Award was given to the firm for its “outside the box” way of thinking in designing the structure.

“It was certainly a long endeavor, but the facility is now using quality filtration that is so clean that it can be used for many different purposes,” said Steve Lewandowski, senior engineer with CABE Associates. “With a site that is surrounded on three sides by wetlands and on the other side by a major road, and is less than two acres, we knew we were going to have to go vertically, which we did. Winning the award was quite an honor.”

According to Lewandowski, Millsboro’s facility is Delaware’s first and only tubular membrane wastewater treatment biological nutrient removal facility. It is also the largest airlift tubular membrane wastewater treatment process in the entire western hemisphere.

Those particulars and the unique design of the facility notwithstanding, the new plant has provided Millsboro residents with a better quality of wastewater service. By the end of 2012, the town’s effluent will no longer be dumped into the Indian River, as has been required by Delaware Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Control (DNREC) regulations, but will instead be used in many other, and better, ways.

Spray irrigation on the town’s recently purchased 400-plus acre farm on Route 20 is an option, as is crop irrigation for local farmers. But a good portion of the treated wastewater will be used to irrigate several of the town’s athletic fields, as part of Millsboro’s long-planned beneficial reuse program.

The first phase of the project was funded by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Green Project Reserve. Part of that project, a pipeline has been constructed from the wastewater treatment facility to athletic fields at Millsboro Middle School, as well as to the Millsboro Little League Complex.

Water discharged from the facility, which will be used for irrigation, is very low in phosphorous and nitrogen, more than meeting DNREC requirements for total maximum daily load (TMDL).

While Millsboro officials are close to realizing their long-term goals, there have been hiccups along the way. In February, the town was fined more than $375,000 by DNREC for permit violations dealing with loading limits. Those violations, caused when the new filtration system failed, have since been addressed by the Town and by its engineering firm.

No repeat of the violations is expected due to recent upgrades and safeguards now in place.

“With any major treatment plant that undergoes an upgrade, you’re going to have some growing pains, and we weren’t without some of our own,” acknowledged Niblett. “But we’ve addressed those issues and fine-tuned the system, while eliminating some infiltration problems. We think we are in very good shape moving forward.”

Nearly a half-million gallons of wastewater is treated every day at the Millsboro site before being discharged into the Indian River, as least for the time being. The facility serves a town population of around 2,700, as well as the needs of the nearby Stockley Center.