Wastewater Treatment Compliance: Navigating Regulatory Standards

Wastewater treatment plants in the U.S. treat around 238 billion gallons of wastewater each week. In addition, about 20% of U.S. homes and businesses are on septic systems that have underground tanks and piping that work with the sand and bedrock to filter wastewater and capture solids in the tank to be pumped out every year or two. Any wastewater has an abundance of phosphorus and nitrogen from household cleaners, personal care products, and human waste. That’s a problem.

Nitrogen and phosphorus damage water ecosystems as they cause algae blooms and pollution that harms fish and other aquatic creatures. Plus, water that contains toxic blue-green algae is fatal to pets. To protect people and animals from contaminated water, wastewater treatment plants must comply with regulatory standards.

What Regulations Are There?

Water treatment regulations exist on federal, state, and city/town levels. It’s impossible to know exactly what the regulations that apply to you are going to be as it comes down to your municipality and the percentage of homes, businesses, industries, and type of sewer system. When it comes to the federal government’s regulations, you’re looking at these two areas.

The Clean Water Act (CWA):

The CWA includes federal regulations that wastewater treatment plants must meet. When they apply for a permit to operate, the EPA sets the limits that the plant must adhere to. If those levels are not met, the wastewater treatment plant must alert the EPA and face fines if the problem could have been avoided. Sudden floods are often harder to avoid, but planning in advance for record-breaking rainfall and storms is beneficial.

The regulations in the CWA are designed to get pollutants out of the water before it’s released into a lake, river, or ocean. Nitrogen and phosphorus are just two of the things that are treated. Wastewater also needs to have pollutants like cadmium, cyanide, lead, nickel, silver, etc. removed to the required levels. 

Different districts will experience different contaminants, and that’s why the EPA will set limits. A city that has an abundance of paper mills or meat processing plants will have different pollutants to one that only has banks, houses, and office buildings. To help with this, some wastewater treatment plants require industrial plants in their municipality to add their own industrial wastewater treatment plants for pre-treatment.

A city that has an abundance of restaurants will deal with more fats, oil, and grease (FOG) than one that is more industrial or residential. FOG is notorious for solidifying in sewers and pipes and merging with tissue paper and plastic wrappers, which creates costly blockages. For that reason, some wastewater treatment districts also require restaurants and food service industries to have grease traps installed in their kitchens.

Does your district also accept hauled septage? If so, you’re going to be getting trucks full of wastewater from septic tanks at homes and businesses. As a septic tank has pipes that release wastewater to the leach field, and solids and FOG remain in the tank, hauled septage will have a higher percentage of solids.

One more thing that is considered when issuing wastewater permits and regulations is what type of sewer system it is. A separate sanitary sewer only has wastewater from homes and businesses. Combined sewers combine a sanitary sewer with stormwater runoff. As they have to deal with an influx of water during a storm or when snow melts, these systems may experience more flooding than a separate system.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA):

Some wastewater treatment plants send their water back to a water treatment plant for a sustainable water system. It lowers the amount of water that’s drawn from lakes or rivers, which is essential in areas where droughts are common. For water treatment plants, regulations set forth by the SDWA come into play.

The SDWA requires water treatment plants to get arsenic, asbestos, lead, mercury, and microbials out of the district’s drinking water. The list of microbes is long and includes things like E. coli, giardia, and legionella. Treatment processes must target these and other regulated contaminants that states, cities, and towns may add. 

Water treatment often uses chemicals like chlorine to kill bacteria and parasites. That chlorine also must be filtered to get it to safe levels. Many districts must add fluoride for oral health, but it has to be at the right levels so water treatment workers have to test and ensure water is safe before it’s released to the public water system.

How Do You Make Sure You’re in Compliance?

A wastewater district manager needs to make sure regulations are followed, otherwise, fines and penalties are possible. This can be tougher than originally thought as weather patterns change and a flood can be devastating and lead to a sudden release of raw sewage. Proper measures are needed to prevent this. Use these tips to stay in compliance.

Analyze Flow Rates

Analyze the flow rates throughout the day. You’re going to have fluctuations throughout the day. Incoming wastewater may be worse in the morning when people are showering for work or school, but much slower throughout the day. After 5 p.m. when people come back home and cook dinner, rates increase again. 

As you learn when more wastewater comes in, make sure pumps and equipment keep up with those rates. You can do this manually, but it’s better to have an automated pump that adjusts for changes in flow rates. This is ideal during storms when there may be higher flow rates than usual because of rainfall coming in from stormwater drains.

Consider the Wastewater

What are you more likely to have coming in? If you are in a district with a combined sewer, dirt and gravel are going to come in whenever it rains and drains into the stormwater system. Gravel, dirt, and sand wear out components quickly, but a grit collection system continually washes and separates grit to protect your equipment. 

Embrace Technology

Technology is helpful when it comes to staying up-to-date on wastewater regulations. As the EPA adds new contaminants to the list, you need to quickly address those items within your treatment process. With advanced technology helping out, you’re in a good place to adapt to changes.

Add a SharpBNR system to continually monitor your wastewater treatment equipment and processes and adjust them automatically if anything is off. Before a catastrophe occurs, you’ll get the alert and can get to the plant to check on things. 

What’s Your Budget? 

Finally, you do have to keep your budget in mind. While government grants to improve the nation’s infrastructure are available, they may not cover everything. Sometimes, a low-interest loan is needed to make improvements within your wastewater treatment plant. 

Work with an expert in wastewater treatment to find the best improvements for the budget you have. Lakeside Equipment has been in business since 1928 and is ready to help you meet your wastewater treatment regulations and be prepared for future changes. Our team of engineers and plant operators have the expertise you need to run an effective, efficient plant.