AP NEWS

Improvements with Water-sewer System in Pipeline for Billerica

May 9, 2019

By Marlies Henderson

Special to MediaNews Group

The Sudbury and Assabet merge and form the Concord River. In the “watershed” or “catch-basin” of this river system, some communities run wastewater treatment plants upstream from us. Billerica uniquely runs both its own (surface water) drinking water treatment plant and its own wastewater treatment plant. The latter is also called Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF). The WRRF is tucked behind the North Billerica Garden City, on 70 Letchworth Ave. I used to confuse it with the drinking water treatment plant off Treble Cove Road -- which has its water intake two miles upstream, off 250 Boston Road.

A Facebook post on “Billerica Water Resource Recovery Facility” triggered an impromptu invitation to a Mr. Rogers-style fieldtrip: A dozen Billerica residents took a look behind the scenes of business mostly carried out underground: Sewer. The tour proved absolutely fascinating, be it somewhat odorous.

WRRF Superintendent Jeff Kalmes is a tried and true instructor having visited Billerica schools for decades to educate students K-12 about the miles of sewer pipes, pump stations, and the facility where our used tap water gets cleaned with the help of bacteria till it meets the pristine standards required to be returned to the Concord River -- purer than the water quality at our intake.

The clean water recovery process starts with separating out undissolved bits. Lately, a growing number of residents switched from toilet paper to “flushable wipes.” Contrary to the label information these cannot decompose, which causes blockages in the sewer system and requires regular “de-ragging” at pump stations -- at taxpayer expense. Crud separated out is hauled off site with the condensed sludge cake; composting takes too much space and time -- and it stinks.

The next steps in the process use gravity, biology and finally chemistry to purify the water; recovering the resource for reuse by returning it to the river, downstream from our water intake, but flowing to the next water intake: After the Concord River joins the Merrimack River, Tewksbury, Andover and Lawrence benefit from the Billerica process. Could Billerica benefit by pumping the recovered water one mile back to the intake at 250 Boston Road? This counterintuitive idea is not on the radar screen (yet).

What is on the radar screen is the 2019 spring warrant: Two WRRF articles: Article 27 deals with Waste Water Plant upgrades and improvements to maintain its cutting edge condition. It passed (165 in favor, 27 opposed) on the first day of Town Meeting.

Still on the radar are leaks precipitating Article 30: Unseen pipe fractures cause either ground contamination outside the pipe, or, since sewer infrastructure is sometimes submerged, cause unwanted “Inflow & Infiltration” (I&I) from groundwater. During heavy rain storms, the latter issue leads to unnecessary increased flow through the facility, at increased treatment cost.

The taxpayer is better off funding a preventive pipeline video inspection; a mega-colonoscopy to detect leaks or blockages early. That’s in laymen’s terms what Article 30 would complete for the Shawsheen River sewer sub-basin.

Superintendent Jeff Kalmes has climbed the career ladder for decades, starting as an operator, now recruiting and training interns, and he attended a Waste Water Management Conference in Europe for further accreditation and certification. He has seen the facility grow from a Massachusetts embarrassment (with fistfights between staff and inspectors in the 1970s), to the top-notch facility it is now, computer-monitored, attracting colleagues from oversees.

For information, visit the town website https://www.town.billerica.ma.us/189/Wastewater , or ‘Billerica Water Resource Recovery Facility’ on Facebook.