Wastewater help sought

Manchester can't use effluent for irrigation in winter

October 21, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

The town of Manchester irrigates fields off Warehime Road with 300,000 gallons of chlorine-treated wastewater daily nine months out of the year.

But spray irrigation isn't permitted during the three coldest months of winter, when the treated effluent could easily run off the frozen ground, town officials said.

Manchester officials have asked the Maryland Department of the Environment to help the town stop discharging treated wastewater into streams, allowing for more groundwater recharge to bolster dwindling reserves, town administrator Steven L. Miller said.

"It's a good practice," Miller said of spray irrigation efforts over the past 15 years. "We've got MDE's assistance and backing."

With federal Clean Water Act regulations set to reduce the amount of pollutants wastewater treatment plants can release into streams, Manchester is looking for cost-effective ways to achieve that goal, Miller said. During the three coldest months of the year, the town would like to inject treated effluent into the ground to avoid putting it into waterways.

The town could also expand its treatment plant to store the wastewater during the coldest months so that it can be sprayed once conditions warm up, said Jay Prager, deputy manager of the Maryland Department of the Environment's wastewater permits program.

The Manchester Town Council will study over the next six months the costs of upgrading its wastewater treatment plant versus the year-round land application of treated effluent. A recent study estimated the plant upgrade could cost $3.5 million.

"It's going to be expensive to do the subsurface discharge, but also to upgrade the treatment plant," Miller said.

Pennsylvania State University pioneered wastewater spray irrigation techniques in 1983. The university releases 2.5 million gallons a day year-round, said John Gaudlip, utilities engineer for the university's physical plant.

Penn State's geologically distinctive land has a 100-foot layer of soil that acts as a "living filter" for the effluent sprayed upon it, he said. Even during the coldest months, the treated water sinks into the ground or freezes onto tree branches, then melts, Gaudlip said. It wouldn't be practical or necessary for Penn State to inject the wastewater into the ground, he said.

"We want to maximize the amount of treatment that takes place in that soil mantle," Gaudlip said.

In Manchester, however, the sprayed water would run off frozen ground, Miller said. Instead, the town would like to insert the treated effluent at least four feet below the ground, into a bed of stone below the frost level.

Manchester presently spray irrigates 70 acres, with higher sprinkler heads for the forested land and golf course-like sprinklers for the cleared farmland.

Residents who live near the property haven't complained about the practice, Miller said.

"They would much rather see it stay as a farm rather than get 500 homes," he said.

Treated effluent is more commonly sprayed on golf courses rather than used on municipal land, said John Grace, a division chief for the Maryland Department of the Environment's water supply program.

To prevent groundwater contamination, Manchester releases its wastewater in a different area from where the town wells are located.

"The wells are not in the same basin," Grace said.

A ban on outdoor water use remains in effect. Town officials have also considered buying water from York Water Co. to meet local demand

The outdoor water ban has reduced daily demand by about 5,000 to 10,000 gallons, to about 310,000 gallons, Miller said. Manchester can comfortably use a little more than 280,000 gallons per day, Miller said, though the state allows the town to draw more from its wells.

Residents have been caught violating the ban, washing cars or watering their grass, Miller said. The first time, they are given a warning, the second time a $50 fine and the third time a $500 fine.

Town officials haven't decided whether to buy water from York Water Co., which has requested the town's number of customers, 1,550, and rates - $2.10 per 1,000 gallons, Miller said.

Manchester might also consider restructuring rates to encourage conservation. But the town doesn't want to upset its big commercial water users, such as Long View Nursing Home and Manchester Elementary, Miller said.

"You have to make your business community happy," he said.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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