Monthly Archives: May 2023

The Top Challenges Facing Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants Today

Initial wastewater treatment options in the U.S. involved the use of cesspools or septic tanks with tile drainage, but this was only so helpful as populations increased and cholera epidemics became an issue in cities like Saint Louis, Missouri. By the 1850s, Chicago, Illinois, and Brooklyn, New York, would become the first two cities with official sewer systems. 

In those cities, large pipes collected household wastewater, industrial wastewater, and stormwater runoff to plants where waste was filtered through filters (usually sand) before allowing it to proceed to rivers and lakes. Worcester, Massachusetts, was the first city to use chemicals to treat the wastewater, and it took around 40 years to get to that point.

Over 125 years later, municipal wastewater treatment plants are vital to our lives, yet many plants face incredible challenges. On average, a plant’s lifespan is no more than 50 years. What are the top challenges facing today’s wastewater treatment plants?

Climate Change

Climate change may not impact all wastewater treatment plants, but it can impact some. One of the leading issues is in any district that’s still using a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). CSOs are starting to decrease in number, but until a city has the finances to enact the change, flooding can create massive issues with excess stormwater flooding a plant and forcing operators to release raw sewage into the area’s lakes, streams, and rivers.

Another problem is heavy rain that causes flooding that gets into your wastewater treatment plant. Most districts build plants on hillsides or away from shores or river banks. They’re in areas where flooding will not impact the plant, but It’s not always possible. If your plant is in floodwaters, it’s going to wreak havoc on the environment by causing untreated wastewater to mix with flood waters and impact rivers, streams, lakes, and the ground surrounding your plant.


Like it or not, the risk of hackers getting into your wastewater district’s systems cannot be ignored. You need equipment that is safeguarded by secure protocols and prevents dangerous cyberattacks. In 2021, three water treatment plants in the U.S. faced ransomware attacks, but manual controls prevented any major issues. Make sure your plant is equipped with security and options where you can manually control equipment if necessary.


Financial constraints are another factor that can impact your district’s wastewater treatment plant. If you’re not getting grants from government agencies and experiencing increased energy bills and maintenance costs from the use of older equipment, your bills increase. Your options are to increase rates, but you’re going to anger the people in your district. Federal rate increases are impacting their lives, too.

Finding ways to save money is important. As you can, upgrade equipment to lower the amount of downtime and maintenance. Upgraded equipment works faster and can be automated to monitor increases as people get home and do the laundry and cook meals or shower and get ready for work or school. It also can shut motors off as needed during slower periods when people sleep.

Increasing Operating Costs

Electricity costs in the U.S. went up from an average of 8.45 cents to 8.6 cents (per kilowatt-hour) for the industrial sector. This may not seem too alarming until you think about how much electricity is used 24/7 at a wastewater treatment plant. It’s estimated that the bubble diffusers that are necessary for aeration can use anywhere from 30,000 kWh to 50,000 kWh per day. The more efficient your wastewater treatment equipment is, the more money you save.

Growing Populations

In the 2021 Report for America’s Infrastructure, it was reported that 15% of the nation’s wastewater treatment plants are over their plant’s maximum capacity. One more home on an already overwhelmed plant can be catastrophic. In addition, 81% of the nation’s plants are at capacity. At that point, it was going to take more than $3 billion to replace the nation’s sewer lines, which was almost $20 per customer. 

That’s just necessary pipeline upgrades. There are also issues with outdated equipment and the high cost of maintenance that is eating up district budgets. It’s estimated that there is an $81 million infrastructure gap that’s making it hard for wastewater treatment plants to make necessary upgrades.

Cities and towns in a wastewater district have to carefully weigh how many new homes are built, but it’s hard to control some aspects like how many people are living in a new home without catching people off guard and demanding to do a headcount, which isn’t going to be welcomed.

There are state and local codes that determine how many people can live in a unit. These codes are in place to prevent strain on the infrastructure. A general rule is no more than two people per bedroom. In a three-bedroom home, there shouldn’t be more than six full-time residents. Leaving some room for population growth is important.

Newer Contaminants

Another leading problem wastewater treatment plants experience involves the newer contaminants that need to be removed from wastewater. Pharmaceuticals are one of them. 

Studies show that common medications like antidepressants are tough to remove from wastewater, and they do impact fish and other aquatic creatures. If a fish is contaminated with these medications, studies show it impacts their fertility. This could cause shortages of seafood in stores and in our diets.

PFAs are another newer contaminant that wastewater treatment plants need to address. Granulated activated carbon, high-pressure membrane, and ion exchange resin treatment processes can all help remove PFAs, which is something the EPA is starting to crack down on with Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15.

Outdated Equipment

Many wastewater treatment plants rely on outdated equipment. This equipment is less efficient and drives up energy bills and can decrease how quickly wastewater is cleaned and released. 

This can lead to increased energy costs, decreased treatment efficiency, and increased environmental impacts.

In the U.S. the average age of underground wastewater and drinking water pipes is 45 years. Some districts are working with pipes that are at least 100 years old. When districts struggle to replace pipes within their district, it’s not surprising that equipment is often decades old and failing before it’s replaced. 

Many of the nation’s wastewater treatment plants were built when the Clean Water Act of 1972 passed. If a plant hasn’t replaced equipment since 1972, the equipment is likely outdated and in need of urgent replacement.

It’s Time to Act

The challenges facing the nation’s wastewater treatment plants are significant, but President Biden’s American Jobs Plan has provided some necessary funding to get to work improving the nation’s infrastructure. Of the $111 billion for water infrastructure improvements, $56 billion in grants and low-interest loads are available for wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water systems.

Look into these grants and low-interest loans to address the biggest issues facing wastewater treatment plants. When you work with experts in water treatment, you’ll get expert guidance into the improvements you should make right now vs. months or years later.

Lakeside Equipment can talk to you about the upgrades you should make and how you should time them to ensure you are not creating a financial strain on your district’s customers. Talk to our wastewater treatment experts to discuss what your goals are and discover the best ways to enact these changes while sticking to your district’s budget.

How to Improve the Energy Efficiency of Your Wastewater Treatment Plant

The U.S. has close to 14,750 wastewater treatment plans, and they process the wastewater of residential and business wastewater that comes in from sewer lines, but approximately 20% of homes and businesses in the U.S. have septic systems that treat some wastewater within the system and the leach field. Every few years or even sooner, trucks pump out the septic tanks and haul the septage to a wastewater treatment facility.

The EPA estimates that wastewater treatment facilities process around 34 billion gallons of wastewater every day. This is an expensive endeavor when it comes to the cost of repairs, upgrades, and most importantly energy consumption. An estimated $2 billion a year is spent on electricity alone, with as much as 40% of a wastewater treatment plant’s operation budget covering that facility’s electricity bills.

Across the nation, wastewater treatment facilities are setting goals to reduce their energy consumption while ensuring water meets the rigid standards required before the wastewater goes to oceans, ponds, rivers, streams, or water treatment plants for reuse. What are the best methods of reducing energy consumption?

Conduct an Energy Audit

An energy audit is the best step to take to identify areas where you can improve your plant’s efficiency. The EPA Office of Wastewater Management has a self-assessment tool to help you get started. The goals of an assessment are to reduce your energy consumption, reduce your operating costs, reduce water loss, reduce your facility’s carbon footprint, and improve the water infrastructure.

ENERGY STAR also offers energy-saving tips and guidance through the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. If your plant has room for improvement, you’ll get information on what efficiency improvements are going to help and learn more about how to prioritize the improvements. If your plant is efficient enough, you can save as much as 30% in a short time. Many facilities see improvements in just a few months.

Area electricity companies also frequently offer energy audits. You can ask your power company if they have any free energy audits available right now or coming up in the future.

Upgrade Older, Less Efficient Equipment

As you go through an energy audit, you learn what equipment is wasting the most energy. You can work with an expert in water treatment equipment to determine what equipment can help you save money and improve your water treatment process. What equipment should you consider?

A good rule of thumb is to look at the age of all of your equipment. Older pumps and motors are going to use more energy. Once you’ve come up with a chart of this information, consider which machines are down for repairs the most. You need to prioritize those. Here are the items that you should consider first.

  1. Heat Pumps

Heat pumps recover the heat generated during the wastewater treatment cycle and use that heat to preheat water sent to boilers where it requires less energy to heat enough for a heating system or hot water usage. Heat pumps can also help cool your building in hot weather.

  1. Variable Speed Drives

Variable speed drives are available on a lot of wastewater treatment equipment. If you have equipment that is just on or off with no change of speed throughout the day, it’s time to change that.

Your district’s wastewater flow rates increase when people come home from work, have dinner, and do the dishes. They’ve been out of the house all day, so it’s been relatively quiet. But, now that they’re using water for meals and cleaning up, doing the laundry, and taking baths or showers before bed, water usage increases, and that means water is coming into your plant faster.

Variable speed drives adjust for these increases. If water isn’t flowing in very quickly from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., drives could turn off until they’re needed for higher flow rates in the morning rush to get ready for work or school. They turn off again in the late mornings and afternoons when people are not home. That saves energy and wear and tear on your pumps and other motors.

You’ll also find variable speed drives on a screw pump. These pump liquid from one area to another without easily clogging. Open screw pumps can be up to 75% more efficient while operating and also require less maintenance, which also helps slash your bills. Type C enclosed screw pumps are up to 10% more efficient than open screw pumps.

  1. Submersible Mixers

A submersible mixer stirs up the wastewater in an anaerobic tank while reducing energy consumption. A stainless-steel propeller delivers high flow rates without needing extra electricity to run the motor.

  1. LED Lighting

If your plant has older fluorescent lighting, that type of lighting uses far more energy than efficient LED lighting. Switch to LED, which can be up to 90% more efficient, and see savings on your next bill. The switch to LED won’t cost a lot of money, and some power companies offer rebates and other incentives to help you make the switch.

In addition to LED lighting, consider adding motion sensors that detect when someone has left a room. This way, if a worker forgets to turn off the lights, it won’t matter. The lights will turn off automatically when there’s no movement in the room.

Tap Into Renewable Energy

If your plant isn’t using solar and wind power to help generate electricity, it’s time to consider making a change. There are many programs out there to help you embrace solar, wind, and even geothermal energy for less money.

For outdoor security lights, install solar lights. They have a separate panel that powers the lights by day and runs them all night. They’re helpful as you can install them anywhere and don’t need outlets or a power source nearby.

As your renewable energy system works, you’ll find your savings end up recouping the amount you spent on the system. From there, you gain pure savings that you can reinvest in additional upgrades or use to lower rates for the members in your district. 

Talk to an Expert in Water Treatment 

You’ll find there are many ways to improve your wastewater treatment plant’s energy efficiency, but it takes research and careful planning to make the best choices for your municipality. Work with experts in water treatment. 

Lakeside Equipment has close to 100 years in the water treatment industry. Our dedicated team of sales professionals, engineers, and technicians are here to meet your needs and complete all aspects of your plant’s upgrades from planning to on-site installation. We can even get the parts you need and ship them immediately.

When your wastewater treatment equipment is efficient and repaired quickly, it keeps your bills low while making sure the environment and community are protected from improperly treated wastewater. Learn more about the upgrades you should make to boost your plant’s efficiency.