Water treatment project first of its kind in Michigan

West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 11, 2017

WATERFORD — The Oakland County Water Resources Commission broke ground on the Clinton River Water Resource Recovery Facility, formally known as the Pontiac Wastewater Treatment Plant, Sept. 12. 

The groundbreaking marked a $32 million improvement project for the plant. The commission plans to build new facilities and bring in new equipment that modernizes the biosolids handling process to increase energy efficiency and reduce costs and the overall amount of waste sent to landfills.

“The equipment in the solids handling process has been aging and exceeded its life expectancy,” said Navid Mehram, WRC chief engineer. “We had to look at alternatives.”

The project makes it possible for the facility to use a new process called thermal hydrolysis pretreatment to condition the solids before anaerobic digestion, a biological process where micro-organisms break down biodegradable material without using oxygen. The process uses high temperatures and high pressures to create a material that will degrade faster in anaerobic digesters. 

“This is the future of what a lot of facilities will be doing,” said Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash. “It’s a good example of how facilities will be treating solids from now on.”

The facility serves Auburn Hills, Independence Township, Lake Angelus, Lake Orion, Oakland Township, Orion Township, Oxford Township, the village of Oxford, Pontiac, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Waterford Township and West Bloomfield Township.

After water is treated at the plant, a residual material called sludge is left over. The sludge undergoes further treatment to become biosolids. Biosolids are nutrient-rich organic matter that, when recycled, can be applied as a fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils. Biosolids can also stimulate plant growth. 

Construction of a more modern biosolids treatment facility means increased energy efficiency and sustainability, with reusable products being produced.

“This project is increasing the maximum amount (that can be treated in a day) and improving the reliability of the equipment,” said Mehram. “Now we can push a lot of product through, but we don’t really treat it — we just press it and landfill it. After the project, we’ll be able to treat it and make alternative purposes for the product.”

The treatment facility currently treats about 15 dry tons per day, with a maximum of about 20 dry tons. After the project, the facility will treat about the same amount each day, but the maximum increases to 26 dry tons. 

At the treatment plant, the former solids handling process for biosolids involved incineration, but that was decommissioned in 2011 due to high operating costs, new air emission laws and costly repairs, and since then, all of the material has been sent to landfills.

The Clinton River Resource Recovery Facility is the second plant in the country and the first plant in Michigan to use the THP process. 

Products of the THP process are methane and quality biosolids. The methane will be used for energy, and the biosolids can be sold as fertilizer. 

The improvement to this process provides future opportunities to generate revenue, officials said. For the communities using the facility, the commission anticipates long-term economic benefits. 

The Oakland County Water Resources Commission is working with CDM Smith Inc. and Tools Contracting Group for the engineering and construction of the project. 

The project received a $2.5 million principal forgiveness from Michigan’s Green Project Reserve, funded by the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program.

The project is set to be done by the end of 2019.