2020 report claims new Hickman County wastewater plant unnecessary
An analysis of Tennessee wastewater treatment plants by a veteran engineer shows upkeep of existing plants could mitigate need for new construction
Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church, site of a February community meeting to discuss the proposed wastewater treatment plant. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A public utility’s proposal to discharge wastewater from heavily populated counties into rural Hickman County would be unnecessary if the utility district maintained its systems, according to an engineer who prepared an analysis of the Water Authority of Dickson County.
A 2020 report by George Kurz analyzing the WADC’s annual treated wastewater flow showed that 61% of the total flow treated was clear water that had leaked into the system, leading to increased costs related to treating diluted sewage.
“It costs more to pump it around, and also it may be so extreme that it fills the pipe and would allow a mixture of sewage and water to get to the sewage treatment plant. It may cause an overflow or backup in someone’s home,” said Kurz, a sewer service contracting and consulting engineer who conducted an independent analysis. Kurz has also worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Data collected throughout 2020 and provided by the Division of Water Resources at TDEC showed that total flow to the Dickson treatment facility exceeded its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for 110 days of the year due to the deteriorated condition of WADC’s collection system.
“The logical conclusion is that if the system focused on spending money for repairing and rehabilitating its system, then a plant expansion would not be needed for years,” said Kurz, adding that a rehabilitation program would cost about $10 million, compared to the proposed $249 million sewer plant along Lick Creek.
“This mentality of solving the (inflow and infiltration) problem by ‘bigger is better’ type thinking is bogus. Leaking collection systems that are not repaired or rehabilitated always get worse,” he said.
The WADC is monitoring inflow and infiltration using models recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency and Mike Adams, WADC executive director, said the measurements are significantly lower than “the single opinion regarding the Jones Creek facility in Dickson County,” referring to Kurz.
“It is important to note that the proposed East Hickman Reclamation Facility would extend service to areas of Hickman County which currently do not have sewer service, not to existing customers. Those areas without service rely on septic systems which have infiltration and inflow issues as well,” said Adams.
Since the Dickson utility announced plans in February to build a wastewater treatment facility in Hickman County, it has faced opposition from residents who have argued their rural community is being treated as a dumping ground for wealthier communities.
Members of Save Lick Creek, a community group that formed around the issue, spoke with officials at TDEC and learned that 97% of the water treated would come from Williamson and Dickson counties.
Hickman County commissioners also complained that they had initially been told that the WADC’s $249 million sewer plant would bring essential lines and pump stations to the county, parts of which remain underdeveloped. County commissioners say WADC officials later told them that the sewer plant would mostly serve Dickson and Williamson County.
“The WADC should be focused on the upkeep and maintenance of their current treatment plants — rather than bulldozing through the Hickman County community to put a Band-Aid on a problem of their own making,” said Rodes Hart, a founder of Save Lick Creek. “It’s obvious that the WADC is completely unable to manage their existing infrastructure. Lick Creek cannot become the next victim of their negligence.”
The logical conclusion is that if the system focused on spending money for repairing and rehabilitating its system, then a plant expansion would not be needed for years.
– George Kurz, civil engineer
Part of the problem is that Middle Tennessee’s rapid growth is leading to a need for increased infrastructure to support the influx of new residents. Similarly, environmental advocates and the Southern Environmental Law Center entered litigation to prevent another public utility company, the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities, from removing protective flow restrictions for Duck River — an ecologically diverse river — in order to meet Middle Tennessee demands for drinking water.
After working for TDEC, Kurz said he became increasingly frustrated with the state’s poor progress in improving its sewage collection system and used his role as an independent researcher to analyze Tennessee’s 243 systems. He found that 45% of the flow treated by systems statewide originated from leaks or inflow into the systems.
“This was double the amount reported by system operators. From my own analysis of sewer rehabilitation projects in Middle Tennessee, I’ve seen that 50% leakage reduction in deteriorated systems is technically and economically achievable,” he said. “I am sharing the results of my objective research with TDEC, other engineers, system operators and the general public in the interests of environmental protection, public education and saving money over the long-term.”
TDEC has yet to issue WADC a permit but a public hearing must be scheduled once a draft permit is completed.
TDEC takes into consideration whether rehabilitation or expansion is necessary before providing permits and provides financial and technical assistance to help water systems determine the best solution, according to Robert Odette, TDEC representative.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, as systems and needs vary across the state,” Odette said. “TDEC strives to take a personalized approach with systems, including through programs like our administration of American Rescue Plan funds and the State Revolving Fund.”
“Both ARP and SRF provide much needed financial assistance to water systems and allow for collaborative, strategic conversations between TDEC and water systems to promote safe, reliable, and sustainable service to citizens across the state,” he said.
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