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Next time you flush your toilet, give a silent thank-you to the men who work at the Cedar Key Sewage Treatment Plant and be glad it is them, and not you, who work there.
Then, thank them again when you see them around town.
A tour of the plant on Tuesday by the proud manager, Jack Hotalling, revealed more than any resident would ever want to know, see or smell about the facility.
What appears to be offices on Third Street is actually a complex that is designed to withstand flood surges from a Category 5 hurricane, built in 1989.
Reinforced concrete tanks with walls over a foot thick, filtration systems and pipes from one inch to one foot in diameter snake high and low; and in the end, the water is almost clean enough to drink. However, it is used for irrigation and will soon be used to flush toilets at the District office and City Hall.
Since the leaking underground water and sewer pipes around town have been repaired in the past few months, the amount of infiltration by sea water has been stopped and has allowed the plant to close down half its treatment system. The volume of water entering the plant and needing treatment has been slashed ― also saving energy and money.
The existing system uses a minimum of chemicals, relying instead on aerobic and “friendly bacteria” filtration systems, as well as chlorine, during the last step. Soon the water will be going through an additional treatment ― sand filtration.
The District received prices of around $500,000 to install the sand filtration system and retro-fit part of the plant to accommodate the modifications but they soon realized that the existing staff was capable of doing the work for approximately $75,000.
Tuesday, they worked on pumping a very liquid concrete slurry into the bottom of two existing concrete tanks. Once the concrete is cured, many cubic yards of gravel will be poured into the tanks and finally a thick layer of sand. Water will flow into the top of the tank, be filtered through the sand and gravel, and then flow out the bottom through pipes.
At that point, the water will be clean ― with less than 1 or 2 ppm (parts per million) ― although the plant is permitted to discharge water as high as 10 ppm. Currently, the plant cleans water to about 3 or 4 ppm.
This is good news for the environment because if there is ever a need to discharge effluent into the nearby waters, it will be cleaner than ever. The staff said this is a rare occurrence and has not happened in over a year.