A mature community with an aging infrastructure, Beaver Falls, Pa., has faced many challenges. Home to one of the oldest and largest wastewater treatment facilities in Beaver County, the city has been forced to address issues such as keeping costs down and updating technologies that have reached their operating capacities. The solutions would require innovative thinking and a creative approach to managing the community's wastewater activity.
"Here, there are a lot of communities within communities," shares Jim Breznai, chief mechanical supervisor for the Beaver Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant. "When faced with the challenge of a mature market, and declining wastewater flows, the answer was to combine the collection systems of the nearby communities to better utilize the treatment capacity that we had in place." As a result, Breznai and his maintenance team are responsible for managing the services of 10 outlying communities-with the Eastvale Borough and the Big Beaver Municipal Authority (BBMA) being his team's primary responsibility outside of the plant.
As Beaver Falls' wastewater treatment responsibilities have grown, so has the need for innovative thinking. "We are historically the least costly system in Western Pennsylvania," shares Breznai. "We're very proud of that, and by servicing the additional communities, we've been able to keep our per-capita costs down-even as we grow and new systems connect to ours."
"What Beaver Falls has done is innovative because they have aggressively sought out additional business," shares Mark Place, CEO of John Place, Inc., a Gorman-Rupp distributor and applications partner.
Mark Kennedy, of Widmer Engineering, is the city's consultant for the recent sewerage expansion projects. "Beaver Falls has positioned itself to provide wastewater treatment service to an expanding region of customers as new sewers are constructed. And they have done this intelligently over the years without breaking the bank in the process," he said. "The leadership role of the recently retired WWTP superintendent, which is now being carried forward by the whole operations and maintenance staff, was critical to this success. The staff understands the big picture, not only their day-to-day jobs, and the entire region is better for it. Other jurisdictions should take note."
"Our plant is in no way considered aging," boasts Breznai. "Eight years ago, we invested $5 million in upgrades-mainly electronics. We're very advanced as far as variable frequency drives and the overall operation of the plant. As a result of that upgrade, today we are able to take in outlying communities because the actual capacity is here."
A River of Challenges
In the latest stage of the sewer collection system's growth, Eastvale Borough, a rural community located across the Beaver River from the Beaver Falls WWTP, posed a unique challenge. Originally, the sewage pump station that existed to serve the Eastvale area of the system was a below ground, wet well-dry well pump station. Installed in 1983 to provide sewerage for approximately 300 homes, the station served the residents well for nearly 25 years.
Today, pumping needs have grown with the addition of flows from neighboring North Sewickley Township coming to the Eastvale station. "This community was a little further out and had plans to connect 1000 additional homes-approximately 300,000 gallons a day. There was no physical way to bring the wastewater across the bridge to our plant with the existing pumping system. Our piping-everything-was pretty much undersized," explains Breznai.
To combat the challenge, both pipe size and pump technology upgrades were required. The immediate upgrade was not the only challenge facing the city; a small footprint provided additional challenges to designing the new lift station. Safe and efficient access-to ensure the new station was easy to maintain-was also a priority. "The site is wedged between a dead-end street, a bridge abutment and the train tracks. It's got a pretty steep grade, and simply put, is a pretty tough site all the way around," shares Breznai.
The challenge was to connect a temporary pumping system to the existing 4-in bridge line, install a new 8-in line on the other side of the bridge, and pump active wastewater flows through the old line while the new line and pump station were being installed. "The hardest thing to ever do is a retrofit-to upgrade a system that needs to perform while you're working on it," attests Place. "New systems are easy because you wait until they are done, you test it, prove it and then you tell the people to start tapping in. This was done live under the gun, because we could not tell 300 homes to stop using water."
The design team was faced with the challenge of engineering a solution that would pump 25,000-gpd to the plant during the construction, which lasted from April through August. However, a rainy day would severely increase the flows, demanding additional muscle to handle up to 250,000-gpd. The design team prepared and was able to ensure the temporary system could handle that additional flow. "We had no problems, no bypasses, and our new pumping system was online before many additional homes were added," recalls Place. "Ultimately, our job is to bring options to the owner and the engineer. We had the solutions, but it was simply a matter of having the communication path open, ensuring we're all talking through the needs of the project. There are no cookie cutter solutions."
The added engineering forethought paid off. "We were glad we decided not to demo the old line, and instead utilize it as a backup," shares Breznai. "It was a big payoff, because even now I can hook up the temporary system at any time as a backup, in the event something were to happen. And, it saved the demolition cost of the old pipe, too."