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Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

A Look at Protozoa in Wastewater Treatment Systems

A Look at Protozoa in Wastewater Treatment Systems

Wastewater treatment is fundamentally a biological process. When influent enters the microbial ecosystem of a treatment plant, nutrient removal is accomplished through the consumption of organic matter by microorganisms. The bulk of all nutrient removal is performed by bacteria, however protozoa and metazoa balance these bacterial populations and offer insight into wastewater conditions. Operators who understand the varying roles of wastewater microbes and the conditions that favor their growth can foster an ecosystem that promotes optimal treatment. In this week’s blog post we will review the niche protozoa fill in wastewater systems to enhance monitoring efforts and inform process control.

Roughly four percent of a wastewater system’s microbial ecosystem is made up of protozoa. Protozoa are single celled microbes both larger in size than bacteria and more complex. The most common types of wastewater protozoa include amoeba, flagellates, and ciliates. By consuming free bacteria and small, unsettled floc, protozoa enhance the clarity of the final effluent. Observing protozoa populations under a microscope can also alert operators of treatment conditions and sludge age.

Amoeba are predominant under a young sludge age because they require high nutrient levels or low competition to grow. Under shock loads of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), high concentrations of particulate matter, toxic conditions, or low dissolved oxygen (DO), amoeba can also dominate. The latter two conditions generally trigger the amoeba to develop a protective gelatinous shell that gives them an advantage over other microbes. Furthermore, their slow movement reduces oxygen demand required for growth and reproduction.

Flagellates are typically present under a young sludge age as well. Since flagellates compete poorly with bacteria for the same soluble nutrients, their growth is favored at the younger sludge age before bacteria have had a chance to populate. As such, a wastewater sample relatively high in flagellates can indicate high soluble nutrient levels also known as a high food to mass (F:M) ratio.

Ciliates are favored under a healthy sludge age. While they do not consume organic matter, they do feed on bacteria making them excellent indicators of healthy floc formation and useful clarifying agents. Without ciliates, bacteria and algae populations can grow out of control in the wastewater microbial ecosystem. Among the three types of ciliates common to wastewater, each group has different conditions under which their populations are favored.

Swimming ciliates start to form as flagellates disappear. They may experience a spike in population when levels of free bacteria are abundant for predation. If too many free bacteria are present, the ciliate population surge can ultimately result in a cloudy effluent. Crawling ciliates dominate when those free bacterial populations begin to stick together forming floc through a secreted slime layer. This slime layer is produced when dissolved nutrients become limited. Since swimming ciliates cannot readily pick off bacteria within the floc, crawling ciliates begin to out-compete them. As they feed on bacteria, crawling ciliates can improve flock structure. A more mature sludge age with reduced BOD allows stalked ciliates to compete with crawling ciliates. Stalked ciliates anchor themselves to floc using the cilia surrounding their mouth structure to create currents that draw in bacteria. Once their food levels have diminished significantly more, stalked ciliates begin to branch into colonial units to acquire food more efficiently. If sludge continues to age, stentors and vaginocola protozoa grow in abundance.

For more information on wastewater protozoa and how to monitor them, we’d like to recommend the following documents. These resources and others like them can be found using our online, resource library.

Bacteria Protozoa – Toni Glymph
The guide overviews basic wastewater microscopy, slide preparation, sample collection, and the microbiology of activated sludge plants.

Wastewater Microbiology & Process Control - Wisconsin Wastewater Operator’s Association
Learn the about microscopes, slide preparation, and the microorganisms found during wastewater treatment.

Protozoan Count – Toni Glymph
This guide describes how to sample protozoa for observation under the microscope.

Managing Dissolved Oxygen in Activated Sludge Plants

Managing Dissolved Oxygen in Activated Sludge Plants

Sustaining optimal dissolved oxygen levels in activated sludge plants is necessary for biological treatment of organic material and ammonia. While raw wastewater often contains some amounts of oxygen, aeration systems can increase dissolved oxygen (DO), mixing, and the suspension of microbes through mechanical agitation or diffused aeration. Aerobic microorganisms use this oxygen to breakdown organic waste into inorganic byproducts. The amount of dissolved oxygen consumed by microbes during biological treatment is referred to as biochemical oxygen demand (BOD). According to an article by Triplepoint Water, approximately 1.5 pounds of oxygen is consumed for every pound of BOD oxidized. To oxidize one pound of ammonia, that value increases to 4.57 pounds of oxygen. Most plants aim to maintain around 2 mg/L of DO which allows microbes contained within the center of floc to receive oxygen.

Wastewater operators should regularly monitor oxygen availability in the form of dissolved oxygen. Insufficient oxygen levels will allow aerobic and nitrifying microbes to die and floc to break up. At DO concentrations under 1 mg/L, the potential for filamentous growth increases. On the other end of the spectrum, too much oxygen increases power consumption and, at very high levels, inhibits settling. Research has estimated that aeration can use up to 45 to 75% of a treatment facility’s overall electricity use. With an online DO analyzer equipped to automated controls, the EPA reports that energy costs can be reduced by as much as 50%.

Where and when an operator samples for DO will be determined by the requirements written in the facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and basic process control. To compare dissolved oxygen levels throughout the day, samples should be collected at the same location. The Ohio EPA’s Activated Sludge Process Control and Troubleshooting Chart Methodology recommends that systems sample within 1-2 feet of the surface water near the discharge of the aeration tank into the clarifier. By collecting multiple samples in the same location throughout the week, operators can reliably determine if DO concentrations are sufficient for treatment while developing a DO profile. In addition, measuring DO at multiple depths and locations in the aeration tank can help find dead spots.  

To supply adequate DO, the Ohio EPA manual includes how to determine blower runtime based on organic loading and system design. We should  still note that temperature, pressure, and salinity can all influence the solubility of oxygen. Additional sampling locations can include the raw wastewater, aerobic/ anaerobic digester, and final effluent. Final effluent with high dissolved oxygen can cause eutrophication in the receiving waters, however low DO can harm aquatic organisms. Some permits set a minimum DO level for effluent to ensure aquatic organisms have the necessary oxygen levels to sustain life.

While every technique and tool has its strengths and weaknesses, operators can measure DO through a Winkler Titration test (see Michigan DEQ Laboratory Training Manual pg.91), electrochemical sensor, or optic sensor. The two sensors mentioned can be purchased as portable handheld meters or stationary devices. For automated blower control and continuous sampling, an online sensor is used. For NPDES compliance monitoring, measurements must be taken through an EPA approved method at the frequency specified in the permit.

When using any DO sensor, the EPA’s Field Measurement of Dissolved Oxygen (SESDPROC-106) procedures require that the equipment be well maintained and operated per manufacturer instructions. Upon initial purchase, probes should be inspected, calibrated, and verified for accuracy. During each additional use the instrument should be calibrated and inspected again. The EPA recommends checking instrument calibration and linearity using at least three dissolved oxygen standards annually. All maintenance and sampling activities should be documented in a logbook per NPDES requirements. Any time a measurement is taken, the temperature of the water and any notable wastewater conditions should also be recorded in the logbook. 

Dissolved oxygen is a frequently monitored parameter in wastewater treatment systems. Operators should have a firm understanding of how dissolved oxygen is involved in wastewater processes and how they can manage DO to achieve compliance. Check out our online document library to find useful resources to learn more.

Featured Video: Wastewater Treatment Process Control Testing

Featured Video: Wastewater Treatment Process Control Testing

This week’s featured video was produced by the Athens Wastewater Treatment Plant. The plant serves a small town of approximately 1,050 people in West Virginia. In an effort to educate their small town and others across the country, Athens WWTP has developed a series of videos. In this particular recording, the plant will demonstrate several process control tests they use to evaluate their wastewater conditions. You’ll learn how Athens performs a settleometer test and monitors pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, oxygen reduction potential, mixed liquor suspended solids, and volatile suspended solids.

Tests likes these are valuable for troubleshooting the dynamic environment of wastewater treatment processes and meeting regulatory compliance. As such, it’s important for sampling to be performed accurately, consistently, and in a location that is representative of the wastewater quality as a whole. The types of tests you perform, the number of samples taken, and the laboratory methods used to analyze these samples will depend on your system’s treatment type, chemical usage, equipment, and raw water quality. Results from the analysis will promote process optimization. A detailed copy of your facility’s sampling and testing procedures should be accessible in the utility Operations and Maintenance Manual for reference.

To provide more information on process monitoring, we’d also like to recommend:


Peracetic Acid (PAA) in Wastewater Disinfection

Peracetic Acid (PAA) in Wastewater Disinfection

Peracetic acid (PAA) has grown in popularity over the last several years for its use in the disinfection of wastewater and stormwater. Utilities use disinfectants as the primary mechanism to inactivate and destroy pathogenic organisms that spread waterborne disease. An appropriate disinfectant will sufficiently treat any disease-causing microbes including bacteria, spores, helminthes, and protozoa. While PAA technology has been employed in Canada and Europe for the last 30 to 40 years, this disinfectant has only become noticed in U.S. municipal wastewater treatment within the last 10 years. Competing with chlorine, an already well-established disinfectant, its use is still slow growing, however systems are discovering that PAA offers several benefits to wastewater treatment that chlorination does not.

What is peracetic acid? The alternative disinfectant is a clear, organic peroxide compound that readily hydrolyzes to acetic acid and hydrogen peroxide in water. It’s characterized as a strong oxidant and fast reacting disinfectant. Commercially available peracetic (CH3CO3H) is purchased in an equilibrium mixture of acetic acid (H3CO2H), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and water (H2O). Manufacturers typically add a stabilizer as well. The following formula represents the equilibrium equation: CH3CO2H + H2O2 ←→ CH3CO3H + H2O.

PAA can generally be purchased in concentrations of 5% to 22%. When PAA decomposes in water, free hydrogen peroxyl (HO2) and hydroxyl (OH) radicals are formed. These radicals have significant oxidizing capacity that play an active role in microbial disinfection. According to the EPA, bacteria are destroyed through cell wall lysis and leakage of any cellular constituents.

Wastewater systems consider moving to peracetic acid for several reasons. Unlike chlorine, PPA decomposes into biodegradable residuals of vinegar (acetic acid) and hydrogen peroxide that can pass fish toxicity tests without removal. These residuals are not toxic, mutagenic, or carcinogenic. Bioaccumulation in aquatic organisms is also highly unlikely. Neither chlorinated compounds nor harmful disinfection by-products (DBPs) are produced with its use. As such, PAA has been considered the potential answer to tough DBP regulations. Peracetic acid can also disinfect over a wide range of pH and is unaffected by nitrate and ammonia concentrations.

Chemical handling of PPA is toted for being easier and safer than chlorination. The disinfectant can be stored for long periods of time exhibiting less than 1% decrease in activity per year when properly stored. Its use does not require any special risk management plans (RMPs) required by the EPA when handling certain toxic chemicals. For systems that operate under cooler conditions to prevent contamination or elevated temperatures, PAA has a low freezing point. Switching to PAA requires minimal retrofitting with the chemical itself being offered at prices competitive to other disinfectants.

There can be some disadvantages to peracetic acid. Depending on the formula purchased, PAA introduces varying amounts of acetic acid into the wastewater effluent. This can contribute to biological oxygen demand (BOD) and may not be appropriate for systems that are struggling to meet these limits. The biggest challenge wastewater systems face is regulatory approval. While PAA has been approved by the EPA as a primary disinfectant, each state regulatory agency must also approve its use. A WaterOnline guest column includes an infographic of states that have approved PPA as of 2017. The guest column discusses how systems can approach local regulatory agencies to seek approval on a case-by-case basis.

The overall effectivity of PPA will depend on wastewater characteristics, the PAA concentration, contact time, and the reactor configuration. Dosage will depend on the target organisms, wastewater quality, and level of inactivation required. When monitoring PAA residuals, operators can use the same analyzer and method as for chlorine residuals. A standard EPA sampling method does not yet exist. The lack of established methods and protocols for PAA makes approval difficult for local regulatory agencies. To help investigate the use and implications of PAA in wastewater, the Water Research Foundation (WRF) completed a study to evaluate effluent toxicity as well as dosage and contact times required to meet compliance. Metro Vancouver’s Northwest Langley WWTP in Canada has also published findings from a multi-year pilot program that used PAA as a disinfectant. More studies will have to expand on existing research until peracetic acid can become easily and widely adopted.

Using Reed Beds for Sludge Treatment

Using Reed Beds for Sludge Treatment

The use of reed beds in both central and decentralized wastewater treatment systems can offer a low cost and energy efficient opportunity to process sludge. Originally developed in Germany, the practice was brought to the United States in the 1980s. Under this technology, a variety of marsh grass, also known as Phragmites, is planted in reed beds built with concrete walls and lined with an impermeable layer to protect groundwater. TPO magazine suggests using a concrete bottom because PVC liner can be easily damaged during maintenance. The beds themselves contain a porous, finely aggregated media such as sand or recycled glass (pg. 12). This media allows the reeds to grow and excess liquid to pass through an underdrain system connected to the head of the plant for recycling. Risers can help distribute and load the sludge.

After the reeds have been established during a period of roughly three months, sludge can be loaded into the beds every three weeks. As the plants’ extensive root structure absorbs sludge moisture, water will be released through leaves and into the atmosphere via evapotranspiration. The microbes found in the root rhizome will help the sludge continue to break down. During the winter months when the reeds are dormant, the freeze-thaw cycle will allow liquid to easily separate from sludge to continue dewatering. When spring arrives, the reeds will return to their active growing cycle.

According to TPO Magazine, reed beds can adequately manage facilities that treat up to two million gallons per day provided that the required land is available. The reeds themselves can handle climates that experience several weeks of freezing temperatures during the winter. Before temperatures drop too low, operators will typically burn off the reeds in the fall. Alternatively, the reeds can be composted or disposed in a landfill. After approximately 8 years, the solids must be removed. At this time, the beds will be taken out of service in the summer and given an additional 90 days to dry out. Once the sludge is removed, the reeds will need to be re-established. A presentation by the Constructed Wetland Group provides a detailed overview of how to perform maintenance on reed beds.

While this technology is low maintenance and energy efficient, there are still pros and cons. As an advantage, reed beds can help to remove heavy metals from sludge. This should be considered during reed harvesting. As a drawback, constructing new beds requires significant capital costs, however utilities may be able to convert existing sand pits or drying beds to reduce costs. TPO Magazine notes that unpleasant odors can emerge during the spring when winter ice melts. Many scientists also worry that wastewater facilities using non-native grasses can encourage the establishment of invasive species. Phragmites spread predominantly through their underground rhizomes, laterally growing stems with roots. Furthermore, when non-native grasses escape into a new area, they can easily take over since their native competitors aren’t present. Facilities should practice careful harvesting and monitor the integrity of their bed structures to ensure containment. Despite these drawbacks, reed bed systems can be a successful and efficient form of sludge treatment even in comparison to conventional treatment methods.

Featured Video: Wastewater Treatment -Troubleshooting Aeration Basin

Featured Video: Wastewater Treatment -Troubleshooting Aeration Basin

This week’s blog features a wastewater troubleshooting video by the YouTube account Wastewater Operations Channel. The account is run by Jon Kercher, an operator of 10 years who uploads educational videos filmed during the work day at his wastewater treatment plant.

In this video, Jon demonstrates how to troubleshoot a disparity between two air legs within an aeration basin that should be equal flow. The problem was noticed when the basin was put into lead position. This video not only demonstrates how to troubleshoot a flow disparity, but teaches a great methodology for troubleshooting any wastewater treatment issues. Jon notes that while we have a general tendency to gravitate our troubleshooting toward process parameters, we must also consider monitoring parameters as well. Watch his video to find out what was causing the flow disparity!

Nocardia Foam in Activated Sludge Systems

Nocardia Foam in Activated Sludge Systems

Nocardioforms are filamentous, Gram positive actinomycete bacteria that can cause persistent and excessive foaming in activated sludge plants during the summertime. There are nine main genus of nocardioforms. Two of these genera are involved in activated sludge foaming, Rhodococcus and Nocardia with the latter being the better known troublemaker. How to best control Nocardia foam is a highly debated topic.

Nocardioforms are known for their branch-like hyphae that extend from the cell wall similar to the hyphae found in fungi. These branches link together with other filaments and floc. Simple and complex organic material make up their diet which includes fats, oils, and grease (FOG). Nocardioforms are slow growing and utilize the aerobic conditions established by an aeration tank. These actinomycetes generally have difficulty out-competing other wastewater microorganisms, but once established they're a handful to remove.

Present in lower concentrations, Nocardia help to stabilize floc structure. The bacteria can rapidly breakdown biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) which can be beneficial to high strength wastewater. In higher concentrations, Nocardia can rip the floc apart and swiftly breakdown BOD starving out floc forming bacteria. The dense, brown foam that accompanies an outbreak forms when filaments float to the surface as a result of their low-density fatty acid membrane and the waxy, hydrophobic biosurfactant that coats their bodies. Bubbles from the aeration system can also help the filaments to float. Unlike Microthrix, nocardioforms are not often associated with sludge bulking.

Unfortunately, the conditions required for a nocardioform outbreak are still debated. In general, any change in temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), solids concentration, or nutrients might spur an outbreak. It’s believed that nocardioforms will be most favored under warm temperatures with a high concentration of FOG, low food to mass (F/M) ratio, and/or a high mean cell residence time (MCRT). Since nocardioforms grow slowly, they need ample time to proliferate, and under low F/M their larger surface area helps to secure nutrients easily. Some people theorize that anaerobic conditions in parts of the aeration tank or surfactants can encourage Nocardia growth as well.

Before deciding on a treatment solution, it helps to confirm that you are dealing with nocardioforms and not some other filament. Just because your foam is brown, doesn’t ensure that Nocardia is the culprit. Toni Glymph has developed a manual that describes how to identify filaments under the microscope. Nocardia is both Gram positive and Neisser positive, but after reading his guide you’ll find that only a Gram stain is really required for identification.

Treatment solutions for nocardioform foam are also highly debated. Using a high volume water spray will temporarily break down the foam, but be prepared for its return. A better solution is to skim off excess foam so the bacteria is not recycled back into the system. Chlorination is not highly recommended. The branching Nocardia filaments prevent sufficient disinfectant contact while healthy floc bacteria are killed. Many companies promote defoaming products, but the interlocking filaments are often too stable for these chemicals as well. Most resources recommend reducing your MCRT to under 8 days while increasing (F/M). Wastewater technician, Jeff Crowther, lists three of his own treatment recommendations on page 10 of the H2Oregon Springs 2016 Newsletter. Solids wasting may be the most common control method. Operators should learn about the life cycle of Nocardia to maintain a system that avoids future foaming incidents.

Featured Video: Replacing the Power Cord on a Sewage Pump

Featured Video: Replacing the Power Cord on a Sewage Pump

Submersible sewage pumps can be used for a variety of applications spanning the needs of residential homes to wastewater treatment plants depending on their size and design. A submersible pump is made up of a submerged motor filled with air or oil. Various impellers designs determine what sized solids the pump can handle.

In this week’s featured video, Chris with R.C. Worst & Co. demonstrates how to replace the power cord on a submersible sewage pump. This particular pump is designed for septic tanks and the sewage handling of commercial and residential applications. While working on the pump, he offers some tips and tricks that can help you to save money during repairs and prevent additional damage. As a bonus he discovers some unexpected factory damage and demonstrates how to repair broken wiring. If you need to fix a pump from your own system, remember that this sort of repair work should only be made by operators with the appropriate training. You can find hands-on pump training in your area by visiting our operator event calendar.

Preventing a Bloodworm Invasion

Preventing a Bloodworm Invasion

Midge fly infestations can pose considerable challenges for activated sludge systems and lagoons. Also known as Chironomids or bloodworms in their larvae stage, these insects resemble mosquitos without the blood sucking proboscis. Adult males can be distinguished from females based on their feather like antennae. After dormancy in the winter, midge flies emerge in the summer ready to lay between 100 and 3,000 eggs per female.

Though midge flies do not suck blood like mosquitos, they disrupt communities in other ways. Swarms annoy both local residents and operators by flying into unsuspecting mouths and flooding outdoor lighting. A study by Selden et al. (2013) found that wastewater operators can develop allergic reactions from midge fly exposure. Chironomids can also cause quite a startle to the public when bright red larvae make their way into drinking water systems.

When it comes to maintaining treatment systems, wastewater operators may be most concerned with the larvae stage of midge flies. Their sticky red bodies cling to suspended solids encasing them in a cocoon of decaying organic matter. Under the protection of these cocoons, they can consume considerable amounts of sludge, bacteria flocc, and nitrifying bacteria. An infestation will cause sludge clumping, rising solids, or foaming issues. In one small town a bloodworm invasion wreaked havoc on an activated sludge plant over a single weekend. The wastewater operator found sticky clumps of eggs had congested the system’s pumps while larvae had eaten away at his mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS).

Facultative lagoons and secondary clarifiers are a favored breeding ground for these pests. Midge flies prefer to lay their eggs in still, high-nutrient water with fixed media, floating scum, or algae. Once the eggs hatch, larvae will likely sink to the bottom to feed on organic matter and sludge. The hemoglobin that gives bloodworms their red color also allows them to live in low dissolved oxygen (DO) conditions.

To avoid bloodworm infestations, operators should focus on encouraging circulation and limiting food sources. Systems can start midge fly control with mixing, limiting surface scum and algae, installing bug zappers, attracting bats and swallows, or turning off lights at night. Introducing a predatory fish can also help. Lagoon operators can encourage circulation by cutting back overgrown vegetation. Any dead spots in circulation should be addressed. When these methods don’t work, some systems will use larvicides and chemical agents as a last resort. Operators should check that the control methods they’ve selected are approved by their local regulatory authorities before use.

When summer starts make sure your treatment system is kept clean and free of obstructions to circulation. With good preventative maintenance, you can spare yourself the nightmares of a bloodworm invasion.

A Microscopic Look at the Role and Life Cycle of Daphnia in Wastewater Lagoons

A Microscopic Look at the Role and Life Cycle of Daphnia in Wastewater Lagoons

Knowledge of lagoon microbiology can provide proactive insight into the present conditions of your wastewater treatment processes. Since we have already covered general wastewater microbiology in a previous featured video, this week’s blog post will highlight the specific roles of Daphnia in wastewater digestion.

Daphnia, also known as water fleas and Ceriodaphnia, are metazoan crustaceans that maintain a useful position in the wastewater digestion food chain if controlled by a limiting food source or the careful addition of hyacinths. These one-eyed crustaceans can consume yeast, algae, bacteria, protozoa and occasionally sludge during the winter. In the wild Daphnia are a food source for small fish, tad poles, and aquatic insects. General stressors for water fleas include cold temperatures, overcrowding, low dissolved oxygen (DO), high ammonia levels, and high pH.

To provide context for Daphnia's role in lagoon treatment requires a review of the wastewater food chain. Bacteria are at the heart of waste digestion breaking down organic material into settleable particles. Protozoa feed on these bacteria populations reducing the organic load. Metazoan organisms like Daphnia keep the populations of protozoa, bacteria, and algae in check.

Daphnia can be useful to wastewater operators under healthy lagoon conditions. These water fleas control green algae populations in the summer. As long as cyanobacteria weren't competing with those algae populations, overall pond health will improve by a reduction in total suspended solids (TSS), cloudiness, and turbidity. At the cost of growing Daphnia populations, dissolved oxygen levels decrease.

Water fleas are often indicators for low dissolved oxygen and water toxicity. Under low DO, Daphnia produce hemoglobin to increase oxygen efficiency. This hemoglobin turns water fleas reddish-pink causing red streaks to appear in your lagoon. When operators see red water fleas, they should consider treating the lagoon with aeration or mixing. Given their low tolerance to toxicity and short generational cycles, Daphnia are also used in the EPA's whole effluent toxicity tests (WET).

Now that we have a better understanding of water fleas, we can appreciate this microscopic view of Daphnia as told by Sacramento Splash. The video reviews the natural life cycle and anatomy of these helpful water crustaceans.