Wednesday, December 16, 2015

DWSD Sludge and NEFCO

Throughout its existence, the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) has disposed of most of its sewage sludge (aka biosolids) by incineration or in landfills.  (Small amounts have gone to farms as fertilizer.)

The high cost of maintaining and rebuilding the incinerators, more strict air quality standards and limitations imposed by landfills caused DWSD in 2013 to contract with the New England Fertilizer Company (NEFCO) to design, build and operate a plant in Detroit to dry and pelletize a significant portion of the sludge for use as fertilizer and power plant fuel.  

Image result for artists drawing of nefco plant in detroit
NEFCO photo: construction in Detroit

Under DWSD’s contract with NEFCO, sewer system ratepayers will be on the hook for nearly $700,000,000 over 20 years.

Last month, DWSD executive director Sue McCormick reported that substantial completion of NEFCO’s Detroit facility is expected this month (December 2015).

The NEFCO plant will replace the six oldest of 14 incinerators.  The facility is expected to process incoming sludge at a modest rate of 300 (relatively dry) tons per day (dtpd), 400 in a pinch.  DWSD’s average sludge production the past year has been about 400 dtpd.  (If memory serves, sludge production was required to be at least 450 dtpd under the Second Amended Consent Judgement when DWSD was overseen by a federal judge.)

The daily tonnage that isn’t removed from wastewater ends up in the Detroit River and then Lake Erie.  So, if there are 550 tons of biosolids in the wastewater on the average day and DWSD removes 400 (perhaps 300 of which will go to NEFCO for pelletizing; 100 incinerated), that means that the remaining 150 tons daily or 54,750 tons annually will feed the algae in Lake Erie. (If there’s more to this calculation than meets the eye, DWSD hasn’t been forthcoming about it.)

There are plans to phase out the remaining eight incinerators in ten years. That’s enough time to install around the region several Janicki wastewater processors, which produce pure water, significant amounts of electricity and a small pile of ash (NO sludge).  The Detroit wastewater treatment plant and the NEFCO facility would no longer be necessary.

*****     **jl**     *****

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

DWSD's New Data Center

The Detroit Water & Sewerage Department is featured in a Data Center Journal article, “Case Study: Data Center Infrastructure in Detroit,” by Anil Gosine, December 8, 2015.


The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), completed a $6 million data center modernization project that consists of highly automated standardized infrastructure...Power and cooling, the physical backbone of the data center, was designed and constructed to be flexible enough to keep up with automated, virtualized, dynamic technologies while balancing capacity constraints, efficiency demands and budgets…

IT operations are a crucial aspect of most organizational operations around the world and at DWSD. One of the main concerns is business continuity...It was necessary to provide a reliable infrastructure for IT operations to minimize any chance of disruption. As information security was a major concern this data center upgrade had to offer a secure environment, minimizing the chances of a breach…
Wastewater Treatment Plant (Photo by Voice of Detroit)

The purpose of the project was to upgrade DWSD’s data centers to industry standards for improved reliability and uptime, operational sustainability, and supportability...As a result of the increased demand for computers, data and telephones, the department had to develop a reliable, secure and available communications infrastructure to its mission...The overall object was to create a cleaner, safer and more organized data center environment so that DWSD could maintain and service the equipment, facility and users in a more cost-effective manner. The result allows DWSD personnel to function more efficiently during future relocations, additions and changes, reducing downtime…
This upgrade now gives DWSD the capability to optimize the equipment housed in these data centers, strengthen the network infrastructure and work with partners to integrate their data...DWSD’s future challenges are to ensure that every asset is utilized optimally; to eliminate fragmented operations, tools and information; and to collate and analyze the metrics needed to bridge the data center divide.

…[T]he data center management team must know the vendors and internal and external customers; maintenance practices and procedures must be rigid, centralized and authenticated.

Another important task is to ensure that the IT division avoids becoming understaffed and overworked…[V]irtual perfection is expected…[A]dministrators must avoid technical shortcuts, which can take their toll on support procedures and compromise overall security.

DWSD can now plan, deploy and maintain a sound virtual infrastructure. The interest of the department is now less in bottom-line costs and more on extracting business value.

(Mr. Gosine “...has been involved in the water/wastewater industry for over 10 years...He is currently the industrial control system (ICS) administrator at Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, where he manages and administers the department-wide controls systems, ICS network infrastructure and cybersecurity.”)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Take Caution! Fish Advisories for Southeast Michigan

The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) publishes advisories about consumption of fish from various lakes and streams in Michigan.

(Throughout the websites and brochures cited in this post, any mention of MDCH, the Michigan Department of Community Health, refers to one of MDHHS’ predecessor agencies.)

Image result for tom sawyer fishing
In Michigan, as in just about every other state in the Union, fish are contaminated with chemicals in the water that move up through the food chain.  Among the more prominent are mercury, dioxin and PCBs.
The Michigan Eat Safe Fish Guide says (p. 71):

Chemicals that cause Michigan’s Eat Safe Fish guidelines are DDT, dioxins, mercury, PCBs, PFOS, selenium, and toxaphene. A lot of these chemicals were put into our environment before we knew the long-term problems these chemicals caused.

Even though many of these chemicals are no longer used, they still remain in our environment. These chemicals can travel through the air and be carried by rain run-off and storm drains into our lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Once these chemicals are in the water, they sink to the bottom and become a part of the fish food chain.

Generally, the older and bigger that fish get, the more contaminated they are.  Also, a lot depends on the species, the water body, how you clean the fish and how you cook it.

The MDHHS guide for southeast Michigan waters has separate sections for 17 counties, Lake Huron and Lake Erie, plus information about many other lakes and streams in the region.

Note especially, that the state recommends that you eat nothing caught in the South Branch of the Shiawassee River because of PCB contamination.  The same applies to the Lange and Revere canals on Lake St. Clair.  Indeed, the state urges more strict limitations on consumption of fish caught within two miles of the Lange and Revere canals than in Lake St. Clair generally.

Musky taken from Lake St. Clair shouldn’t be eaten.  Ditto for carp and catfish in Saginaw Bay.

In most locations, more servings per month of panfish are approved than larger fish.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Part 3: Murky Waters, "Capping" Open-Water Sediment Dumps

Corps’ Latest Attempt to Legitimize Open-Lake Dumping of Dredged Sediments

-- third in a series of three --

Rivers and Harbors Act - The authority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE or Corps) to dredge navigation channels in the Great Lakes and elsewhere begins with periodic acts of Congress referred to as the Rivers and Harbors Act of a particular year.  

The Corps is compelled by statute to use the least expensive means in disposing of dredged sediment.  Usually, there are two options for disposal: on-land (or “confined”) and open-water (in our region, a lake).  The least expensive is always open-water, but the catch is that dredged material dumped in a lake isn’t supposed to be contaminated with pollutants.

The eight Great Lakes states (along with two Canadian provinces) have major economic interests in keeping whichever lake or lakes they border clean and healthy.  They have a legitimate concern that any dredgings the Corps wishes to dump off their shores really is uncontaminated.

Cleveland and Toledo - The issue of contamination has been central in ongoing disputes between USACE and the state of Ohio.  In Cleveland, a principal concern has been polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).  In Toledo, nutrients from chemical fertilizers and livestock manure in agricultural runoff upstream contaminate dredged river sediments deposited in Lake Erie, fueling toxic algal blooms.

See Open Lake Disposal, a position paper of the Ohio Environmental Council.

Bipartisan Bill to Fund Repairs at Toledo Harbor
                                                       Toledo Harbor                             EPA photo

The Ashtabula Experiment - Earlier this month (November 2, 2015) discussing the Corps’ dredging of Ashtabula (Ohio) Harbor and open-lake disposal, Andrew Kornacki acknowledges on the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System that “...portions of dredged sediments contain contamination that can have a negative impact on the aquatic environment if not managed properly.”  

In other words, the Corps knows that the dredged material they’re dumping in Lake Erie is contaminated, contrary to the Clean Water Act.  But don’t worry, they’ve come up with a gimmick that might counteract the negative effects.

UPDATE November 21, 2015:  Another article by Andrew Kornacki posted November 20, 2015 states in part,

BUFFALO, N.Y. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District has released documents that have been submitted to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, requesting a Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification for open lake placement of dredged sediment from the upper Cuyahoga River federal navigation channel associated with its scheduled 2016 dredging of Cleveland Harbor.

All documents can be found on the Buffalo District’s Web page:

 Kornacki’s November 2d report says:

Using conventional dredging equipment, the USACE Buffalo District along with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) have started the first of its kind large scale demonstration of treating dredged sediment, from Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio, with activated carbon to determine if bioaccumulation can be reduced in the bioactive zone of the 50-foot-deep open-lake placement site.

They say the activated carbon is mixed with the dredged sediment on the scow, using a clam-shell bucket.  (Not exactly a Cuisinart blender.)

The project manager is quoted in the report as saying the contamination in the dredged sediment is minimal.  Apparently, we’re supposed to believe that, on the one hand, there’s almost no contamination, but on the other hand, the contamination is so robust that it will justify scientific conclusions about remediation.

Kornacki again:

In a process right from the text book of a high school chemistry class, when the contamination in the sediment comes in contact with the activated carbon the two bond together. The contaminants are so strongly bonded to the activated carbon they cannot be bioaccumulated by aquatic organisms that come into contact with the sediment.

The most biologically active zone in lake sediment is at the surface of the lake bottom. Knowing this, a part of the study is to examine how treated sediment can be used to cap previously placed or existing sediments on the bottom of the lake by placing a 2-5 cm layer of treated sediment to provide a protective bioactive zone.

Wait a minute!  You buried the most biologically active zone, the lake bottom, under thousands of cubic yards of dredgings!  And now you’re going to place (dumping from a scow 50 feet above) a 2-5 cm (one or two inch) carbon-dosed layer of sediment as protection?  Protection of what?  For how long?  Are there no currents in this huge body of water?  Is anybody buying this?

Before USACE is permitted to apply this preposterous idea routinely, its findings and conclusions from the Ashtabula experiment should be subjected to close, scientific scrutiny and replicated by qualified, independent authorities.  The last thing we want in my neck of the woods is open-water disposal in Lake St. Clair.
UPDATE:  Cleveland Plain Dealer by Evan MacDonald, December 19, 2015:                           

"Ohio Attorney General seeks public hearing on Army Corps' proposal to dump dredged material in Lake Erie"

"The attorney general's office has requested a public hearing over the Army Corps' proposal, arguing that the Army Corps 'stands alone in its position that disposing of contaminated sediment in Lake Erie is environmentally acceptable.' "
*****     **jl**     *****

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Part 2: Murky Waters, USACE, Toledo

-- second in a series of three --

The Maumee River watershed covers 8,316 square miles in northwestern Ohio, northeastern Indiana and southeastern Michigan.  The river enters the western basin of Lake Erie at Toledo, Ohio.  

The watershed is a fertile agricultural region that contains many concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), principally hogs, poultry and dairy. Agricultural runoff contaminates the river. In addition, industrial sites, wastewater treatment plants and combined sewer overflows continue to pollute, although not as much as in the past.

Consequently, the mouth of the Maumee River is loaded with sediment, toxins, pathogens and nutrients.  Among the nutrients, phosphorus is notable for its contribution to the algal blooms that plague western Lake Erie. Climate change is a factor, as well.

Toledo is a major Great Lakes port.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE or Corps) is responsible for maintaining a draft of 28 feet in the navigation channel and moorings in the river and harbor.  


Every year, a Corps contractor dredges the polluted sediment and dumps it several miles out in Lake Erie.  For years, the dredgings (as much as one million cubic yards or more per year, enough to fill a 1000’ ship like the MV Tregurtha nearly twice) have been dumped at the same two-square mile site.

 MV Paul R. Tregurtha         Jeff, Greg & Amanda Barber
Environmentalists insist that open water dumping pollutes the lake and contributes nutrients to algal blooms.  In 2011, 2014 and 2015, toxic blooms of cyanobacteria (commonly referred to as blue-green algae) spread across the lake.  The 2014 bloom poisoned the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people in and around Toledo.  The Corps denies that open water disposal has a significant effect on algal blooms.

Earlier this year, a law was enacted in Ohio which prohibits open lake dumping as of 2020.

The Corps is working on a process which it claims will seal or cap contaminated dredgings dumped at open water sites.  Without solid, independent verification of such a theory, there is a substantial risk that the Corps will apply a flawed process at open water sites throughout the Great Lakes.

The confined (on-land) disposal site presently used for contaminated sediment dredged from the mouth of the Clinton River on Lake St. Clair in southeastern Michigan is near its authorized capacity.  Even though the volume of Clinton River dredgings is relatively small, a change from confined disposal to open water dumping in Lake St. Clair on the assumption that the dumped sediments would be capped is too risky for as valuable a recreational resource as Lake St. Clair.