After nearly four years of planning and construction, the new Emporia Wastewater Treatment Plant was unveiled during a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday morning.

The plant has been converted to an Integrated Fixed Film Activated Sludge — or IFAS — system to allow the city to comply with new environmental regulations. The City of Emporia first became aware of the upcoming regulations — which are set to take effect in 2022 — in 2015.

This is the first system of its kind in Kansas.

“What IFAS is, is basically a new treatment process for wastewater treatment,” Kerrie Greenfelder, a department manager with the Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell engineering firm, said. “We chose this process by working with the city because a lot of the infrastructure was existing. A lot of our job as engineers is to think about how something can be reused.”

By repurposing existing infrastructure, the city was able to save roughly $1 million on the project.

“We really looked at ways that we could help the city build a new wastewater treatment plant, use a lot of the existing infrastructure and meet the impending regulations,” Greenfelder said. “What’s happening here, and really across the entire United States, is they are limiting the amount of nutrients you can put back into waterways. Think of your farmers putting fertilizers back on fields; it makes plants nice and green. Well, that’s what is coming out of wastewater plants are the nutrients. We don’t want nice, green lakes and rivers. We want to treat them to the greatest extent possible.”

Greenfelder said city officials wanted to be proactive and get on top of the new regulations before they came into effect. That required a team of multiple entities including city employees, Burns & McDonnell engineers, CAS Constructors and BG Consultants.

“We delivered this project using a collaborative process called ‘Design-Build,’” she said. “It’s a joint-venture team. We have the engineers, the constructors and the city all coming together to design the plant, construct the plant, operate the plant well ahead of schedule.”

The IFAS system works by adding fixed or free floating media to the activated sludge basin to encourage the growth of biomass. The media is roughly the size of a small piece of pasta and has a number of crevices and bumps on which bacteria can adhere.

This helps to enhance and expedite the treatment process, as well as increases the capacity of the activated sludge system using the same tank volume.

On average, the Emporia plant processes approximately 4 million gallons of wastewater per day. That number increases during heavy rain events.

“Good bacteria grow in these little crevices and basically, that’s what eats the wastewater,” Greenfelder said.

Burns & McDonnell Project Manager Brian Knadle, who has worked on other IFAS systems in other states, said the city had some significant challenges to overcome.

“The city came to us knowing they had a lot of challenges ahead of them,” he said. “A fixed budget, tighter effluent limits, as well as a needed increase in capacity.”

The challenge was making those needed upgrades while keeping the city’s plant running during the construction process. The overall goal was to simplify the process and make it more efficient.

The plant now uses a multi-step process to purify wastewater, starting in the influent pump station, where the water is screened for large debris. The wastewater is then pumped to a second station for further grit removal. Wastewater eventually moves through the IFAS system, where bacteria attaches itself to the bio-media. The water is in constant motion at varying speeds, using turbo blowers and air compressors. The wastewater is then moved into clarifier tanks, which further remove solid sediment materials from the water.

It is then pumped to another station for ultraviolet disinfection, where the water passes underneath UV bulbs to purify the water. The water is then moved through the effluent pump station and deposited into waterways.

From there, the plant still handles the solids that were processed during the liquid stream processing stages.

A new administration building that houses offices, the specimen lab and new bathrooms was also constructed.

Former-Public Works Director Frank Abart, who is now the public works director for the City of Bonner Springs, came back to Emporia for the ceremony. Abart was heavily involved with the project before his departure.

“It feels really good to see this,” he said. “It’s a really great improvement for the City of Emporia and it’s several years in the making. I was here with the start of it, where we did the selections and the original concept and pulled together the funding. This is going to take this city and this area into the future, at least a couple of decades. It will meet all of the state and federal criteria into the future as far as we can predict it. It’s a really good improvement.”

Abart said Bonner Springs may look at doing something similar to Emporia’s plant in the future.

“This is one of the possibilities,” he said. “As time goes by, it seems like every year there’s a new technology, a new method for resolving some of these requirements to meet the environmental regulations for nitrogen and phosphorous. This is a new technology for Kansas, but we made a trip to Colorado where they have several of these systems. This is tried and true for like a decade.”

Mayor Jon Geitz said the plant’s upgrades were one of the first projects to come across his desk as a city commissioner.

“This is probably the biggest construction project the City of Emporia has ever undertaken,” he said. “We could not have done it without the expert advice of Burns & McDonnell and CAS. Our friends from BG were the city’s representatives throughout this entire process.”

Geitz said he was hopeful this would be the last upgrade needed for a while.

“We hope this will be the last update to our wastewater plant for another generation,” he said. “This is something the city needed, the average Emporia citizen will probably never see this facility, but if there was a problem, they will definitely experience it.”

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