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Area businesses, sewerage district collaborate on pollution prevention

From reducing salt use to making sure solids like grease, ‘flushable’ wipes, pharmaceuticals, and mercury don’t enter the system, there are a lot of little things businesses can do to prevent big problems in the wastewater system.

Fatbergs didn’t sink the Titanic, but they can sure slow the flow of wastewater. A fatberg recovered from the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District’s pipes reveals the ugly truth: wipes, feminine hygiene products, and grease aren’t flushable!

Fatbergs didn’t sink the Titanic, but they can sure slow the flow of wastewater. A fatberg recovered from the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District’s pipes reveals the ugly truth: wipes, feminine hygiene products, and grease aren’t flushable!

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We tend not to think about what we’re putting down our pipes until there’s a clog. That’s a big problem, and not just because the little clogged drains in our sinks or toilets are nothing compared to what’s gumming up the works down the line.

Preventing pollution makes sense for the environment and the economy, and this week area businesses are connecting with the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District to learn how reducing salt and other pollutants in the wastewater stream can trim company operating costs while keeping sewer bills low for everyone.

“Pollution prevention is critical to our environment, economy, and quality of life,” Michael Mucha, chief engineer and director of Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District says. “It is extremely difficult and costly to remove pollutants such as chloride and other chemicals once they get into our waters. When everyone works together to keep them out, we all benefit from improved water quality and lower utility bills.”

Established in 1930 to protect the lakes and streams of the upper Yahara watershed, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District today serves 26 Madison-area customer communities covering some 184 square miles and 360,000 people. The district owns and operates 141 miles of pipe and 18 regional pumping stations that convey approximately 41 million gallons of wastewater to the Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant each day.

Ashten Bischoff, ETC, Ralph Erickson, Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, Catherine Harris, the district, and Chris Kaufmann, ETC, talk about the plant’s process to convert unwanted phosphorus into Crystal Green. The fertilizer is shipped to farms outside the watershed, providing a needed source of nutrients to growers in other states.

In conjunction with Pollution Prevention Week, Sept. 18–24, leaders from four area businesses joined the district’s industrial pretreatment expert Ralph Erickson for tours of facilities, including Pumping Station 18 and the Nine Springs Treatment Plant, 1610 Moorland Road. Among those attending were Chris Kaufmann, a manufacturing engineer, and Ashten Bischoff, a manufacturing department administrative staff member, from ETC of Middleton.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with businesses of all sizes,” Erickson says. “ETC is a good example of a company that is committed to ongoing process improvements.”

With some 850 employees in Dane County, ETC manufactures and sells lighting fixtures, architectural systems, and theater controls to markets worldwide. Kaufmann notes the company’s manufacturing processes involve pretreatment of the metal substrate before powder paint is applied. The process generates wastewater that flows to the district’s treatment plant.

“As a company, we really try to be proactive on environmental matters and we view pollution prevention as an opportunity” that creates benefits for everyone, Kaufmann explains. Kaufmann says the company is checking into opportunities to reduce its salt use, as well as alternatives to its current pre-treatment technology to reduce phosphorus.

ETC’s collaborative approach is welcome to leaders of the MMSD, because keeping pollutants out of the water in the first place is far cheaper than building infrastructure to attempt to remove pollutants after they enter the wastewater stream. The district operates under a Clean Water Act permit. To cost-effectively meet more stringent regulations on chloride and phosphorus, the district is focusing on collective action.

To encourage area companies to use salt more efficiently, the MMSD encourages area businesses to reduce salt use and apply for rebates through the district’s chloride reduction program. Rebates are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and tied to salt reductions to the sewer system in pounds per month; for example, facilities that reduce salt to the sewer system by an average of 500 to 1,499 pounds per month qualify for a $1,000 rebate.

Harris, Bischoff, Kaufmann, and Erickson, discuss wastewater treatment processes that reclaim nutrients including methane gas, fertilizer, and biosolids while producing treated water for return to the watershed. Aeration ponds use natural bacteria and air to aid the recovery process.

Current participants in the salt rebate program include Hydrite Chemical Co. of Cottage Grove, which also sent representatives to one of Wednesday’s tours, as well as Madison United Healthcare Linen and Steve Brown Apartments, among others.

This is the second year the rebates are being offered; during 2016, 16 organizations qualified for rebates. The rebates average $1,600 and the district budgeted $200,000 for the initiative for 2017.

Brad Bennett, maintenance supervisor of Madison United Healthcare Linen, says his organization is saving money on supplies, maintenance, and labor as a result of its efforts to reduce salt use. The nonprofit organization, which serves as a central laundry facility for several nonprofit health care systems, is reducing its salt use by 25 tons per year for a savings of $4,000. With the rebates and the salt savings, the project has paid for itself.

“Reducing salt use makes good business sense and it’s good for the environment,” Bennett says. “As with any other maintenance or system change, our initiatives required upfront planning but the investment will continue to yield benefits over time.”

Steve Brown Apartments also has completed a salt reduction project, trimming more than 4,000 pounds of salt per month from operations at the Lucky apartment building alone. In addition, Steve Brown Apartments is reducing use of road and sidewalk salt, says Mitch Colstad, community manager.

“It’s a savings to our operations that we’ve achieved without any noticeable change for the residents and neighbors of Lucky,” Colstad notes. “We’re looking at whether we can replicate this success at some of our other properties. These efforts really add up to keep costs down while creating benefits for all of our community’s waterways.”

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