Ligonier sewer separation project nears completion
Work should prevent combined overflows from occurring
By Kelly Lynch | KPC News - The Advance Leader
Don Skinner explains his work as a way to “compress nature and time in a small area.”
As Ligonier’s wastewater treatment facility manager, his department now will be able to do this work more efficiently with the final stages of a years-long sewer separation and plant renovation project expected to come to a close in spring 2017.
The separation of the city’s stormwater lines from sanitary wastewater lines is the result of an unfunded federal mandate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop contamination of rivers and water sources during periods of heavy rain, which have the potential to cause overflow of untreated waste.
It’s an issue that cities have been working to improve over the years, but funding is difficult to find to keep the cost reasonable, Skinner said. Ligonier’s situation was especially complicated, because it had a very highly combined sewer system due to the Elkhart River winding its way through the city.
But now near the end of the $1.9 million project financed by a State Revolving Fund loan and USDA Rural Development funds, Skinner is already seeing the benefits of the upgrades that included building a new sanitary sewage system on the north side of the river, installing higher-capacity pumps, constructing new clarifiers, increasing overall capacity of the wastewater treatment plant and overhauling the ultraviolet disinfection chamber.
The sewer separation project shouldn’t be confused with with other efforts to improve the city’s water distribution system, which recently were awarded a $650,000 grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
“You know people laugh and say that’s a lot of money, but if they saw these people digging these lines out, it was pretty extensive work,” Skinner said of the $1.9 million sewer separation project. “We have dropped our flow about 50 percent from three years ago.”
The project’s construction has been slow going because parts and equipment aren’t built until an order is placed, so contractors had to wait for everything to be put together and shipped to start on-site work, Skinner said.
Contractors also were surprised to find antiquated equipment in the ground that no one knew about, and some items they were working to improve dated back to the 1920s and 1930s.
Skinner laughed when explaining that workers had a tendency to describe some of what they were doing in Ligonier simply as “yuck.”
But over time, regardless of how well a wastewater treatment plant and sewer system are cared for, the infrastructure starts to break down.
“The trouble is so much of your equipment just wears out. Concrete disintegrates, you name it,” Skinner said. “It’s a little bit like a car. You service it right, it lasts a long time. But eventually your motor gives out and you need to rebuild it if you want to keep it.”
Employees at the facility must know about chemistry, hydraulics, electricity and more, and with Skinner planning to retire in the fall of 2017, the completion of this project will leave the facility in a good place, having squeezed every penny to get it right.
“We’re not 100 percent separated, but we should be separated enough that we are sure, with what we’re seeing, there shouldn’t be any more combined sewer overflows,” Skinner said. “It’s been a very valuable project. It helps the city deal less with excess of water. We do less pumping, and there’s less chance of it backing up.”