Water and wastewater are some of the most expensive utilities to provide and also the most vital to keeping a community healthy. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says municipal water and wastewater treatment systems "are among the most energy-intensive facilities owned and operated by local governments, accounting for about 35 percent of energy used by municipalities."
In Alaska, costs can be even higher than those national averages, especially in rural and remote communities where groundwater is brackish or soils unsuitable for building wastewater treatment facilities.
But what's happening with water and wastewater in Alaska's urban areas? Are water utilities much different in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Mat-Su than Outside? What are the issues facing these utility providers? Since last year, Alaska Business Monthly readers have been learning about utilities across Alaska and finding out how each community is preparing for the future.
The city of Seward wastewater treatment plant at Lowell Point may have one of the nicest views in the country, but city officials say the plant is giving off some offensive odors.
City public works director W.C. Casey says the city is working on a $4 million fix that involves draining the two city sewage lagoons, removing sludge, and reworking its aeration system to get it working back at normal levels again.
Seward's Lowell Point plant can process up to 880,000 gallons a day, but generally the number is a bit lower: between 500,000 and 700,000 in the summer. That number is largely dependent on rainfall, Water and Sewer Foreman Nort Adelmann says. July was a relatively dry month, for example, and Adelmann says the city processed about 500,000 gallons a day. August showed more rainfall, so the plant processed around 700,000 gallons per day.
Seward's treatment facility is self-regulating and pretty basic. Waste comes from about nine hundred customers around the city and travels through piping to some of the three lift stations and one pump station scattered around town. All of the waste goes through Pump Station 3 where a macerator grinds everything into small pieces for easier processing.
After passing through the macerator, Adelmann says, the waste flows into the treatment facility and to the first of two lagoons. There, eight aerators typically pump air into the septage to allow bacteria to break it down.
Adelmann says the first lagoon holds about 30 million gallons. Treated waste...