A new kind of wastewater idea coming closer to reality in New Albin

Plans for Algaewheel wastewater treatment system continue to move forward ... The Algaewheel wastewater treatment system being pursued as a solution for the community of New Albin is pictured above with its system of rollers in a "greenhouse" setting. The photo above was gleaned from the website of OneWater Group from Indianapolis, IN, the company responsible for the system that describes the process as "the photosynthetic algal biofilm which forms on the algaewheels (pictured above) cultivates an algal/bacterial ecosystem that provides enhanced wastewater treatment performance."

by Anne Falken,

It’s going to happen. After two plus years of work by the New Albin City Council, NAIL (New Albin Improvement League) and other concerned citizens, enough progress has been made on the proposed wastewater treatment plant to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The light shows a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment idea, Algaewheel, that mimics nature’s own biological processes by utilizing the symbiotic relationship between algae and bacteria.

OneWater Group, based in Indianapolis, IN, is demonstrating global foresight in its product, Algaewheel, which promotes decentralized water treatment and water reuse, and addresses water pollution and water security. In today's world of declining fresh water supply from booming populations and over-consumption, ensuing droughts, and perhaps terrorism, a decentralized water treatment plant gives more dependability and protection for a city’s water supply.

The Algaewheel system includes a greenhouse-like structure with curved multi-wall polycarbonate (see accompanying photo) to optimize light for photosynthesis, and provides heat and cold insulation. Size is built to match historic flows but panels can be added at a later time. Inside are rollers for the wastewater to circulate upon, where algae has been introduced. Algae grow on the rotating wheels, using light, CO2 and nutrients. Algae produce oxygen, consume carbon-dioxide and generate polysaccharides (sugars). Bacteria consume the oxygen and sugars and produce carbon dioxide - completing the cycle. It is a self-regulating system with few mechanical parts or complex controls for staff to monitor.

Even inside, such a facility doesn’t really smell, if one can imagine that. No big infrastructure, like digging in distribution pipes and collection networks, will be required. Experience has shown that technical providers continue to design for larger communities and do little to mitigate the problems that smaller communities face in wastewater treatment, including the cost and variable flows. Specific technology selection is crucial in these decentralized applications.

One very big hurdle was overcome this fall as the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) approved the Algaewheel for New Albin. Treatment readings had to be collected on the Algaewheel for the DNR and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for at least one year. There was special interest in how cold weather would affect this technology. Now, the Facility Plan must be submitted this November for a tight timeline to stay on track.

Lucas Elsbernd and Fehr Graham Engineering are preparing the Facility Plan. A very important federal block grant available through Iowa’s Upper Explorerland, where eligibility hinges upon information gained through a town survey, may be available to New Albin. The New Albin community really pulled together, with City Council, NAIL and others dividing up the town and going door-to-door to complete this survey, which expires in April of 2018.

Since the Facility Plan takes about two months for its approval, and must be in place before the block grant application, everything is caught hinging on these dates. But the timeline is there, and a very diligent and determined crew in the New Albin City Council and its captain of this project, George Blair, are pushing the project forward.

There has evolved a large cast of characters by now working on this project, beyond the city council and NAIL. Among those expanded cast members are Fehr Graham Engineers out of Manchester, OneWater Business Manager Mark Bauer, Daniel Johnson, PhD engineer whose research and work is algae/bacteria in wastewater biofilms - specifically with Algaewheel,  Midwest Assistance Program in identifying available financial help, Rachelle Howe with Upper Explorerland, Corey Sonner, manufacturer’s representative with VESCO (OneWater’s national distribution company), and, of course, the Iowa DNR.

The New Albin City Council wants to partner with OneWater because their goals match: low-energy, low-cost, water security and ecological responsibility. This would be the first such system in Iowa, and New Albin would even be among the first small U.S. cities to have an Algaewheel.

New Albin has the potential to become the OneWater showcase city, where other cities or entities interested will come to see how the system is working. New Albin is willing to take a chance on the Algaewheel, and hopes to negotiate the final cost with OneWater to reflect this.

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