A three-year, $100 million effort to cut levels of nutrients coming from Howard County's wastewater treatment plant in Savage got under way Thursday with a ceremonial groundbreaking.
More than five years in the planning, the project will use waste from a nearby ice cream plant to help produce enough bacteria to sharply reduce the nitrogen being emitted with wastewater from 3,900 pounds a day now, to 830 pounds per day in 2012, when the work is completed. Reuse of some treated water will also help by diverting it from the Patuxent River.
The project is partly an outgrowth of the plant's expansion in 2003 that boosted its capacity from 18 million to 25 million gallons of water a day.
The understanding with state officials then was to allow the expansion to accommodate more development, but with a renewed commitment to lower the amount of nitrogen sent into the river and thus into Chesapeake Bay. The plant opened in 1962 with a 1 million gallons daily capacity, and it has had six expansions and upgrades since then.
"Wastewater treatment plant upgrades continue to be the workhorses of bay restoration," said Shari Wilson, Maryland's Secretary of the Environment. The Little Patuxent Wastewater Reclamation Plant project, she said, should reduce nitrogen going into the river by 62 percent and phosphorus by 85 percent.
"I don't have enough superlatives to tell you how important this is," she told a crowd of county workers, public officials and construction company executives gathered under a large white tent on the site.
The state is providing $35 million of the cost from the Bay Restoration Fund, plus another $18 million in loans. Howard County's share is $47 million.
"I just think this is a great day for the bay. It's great to see this become a reality," Howard County Executive Ken Ulman told the crowd.
Jenn Aiosa, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's senior scientist for Maryland, also praised the project.
"This is the flush fee at work," she said.
The Savage project is perhaps the largest plant upgrade so far, and state of the art in increasing capacity without increasing the nitrogen load as well, she said.
Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, who sits on the Patuxent River Commission, also praised the project, saying it would help the state turn a corner in restoring the Chesapeake Bay. Increasing the reuse of treated water will help achieve that goal, she said.
The construction also marks a milestone for the county, according to Public Works Director James M. Irvin.
"This is the biggest, most complex and demanding project we've ever built," he said.