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Larned wastewater plant cited for deficiencies
Consultant helping to expedite maintenance and repairs
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Vanderhoof and Larned City Manager Bradley Eilts oversee valve repairs at the City of Larned Wastewater facility basins. - photo by Veronica Coons

LARNED — Larned City Manager Bradley Eilts has gained a new appreciation for water treatment. The city was recently notified by KDHE of a $23,000 fine after several urgent requests to repair and maintain equipment were ignored and poor quality wastewater was discharged into the Arkansas River for more than a year. 

Lack of maintenance key factor

Prior to Feb. 11, 2016, the facility failed to meet permit effluent limits. This prompted KDHE to refer the City of Larned to the Kansas Rural Water Association to receive wastewater technical assistance, the cost of which was paid for by KDHE. 

An inspection in March, 2016, resulted in a letter urging, among other things, the city to perform needed maintenance on two ultraviolet light channels which effluent passes through before it is discharged into holding tanks. The ultraviolet light essentially kills 96 to 99 percent of the pathogens in raw sewage. 

The maintenance amounted to replacing bulbs, capacitors and quartz sleeves in the channels. The report also requested a plan to replace all bulbs yearly and all sleeves every two years. 

This did not happen. The report detailed violations of E. coli effluent violations eight times from March 2017 through April 2018, with results in excess of more than nine times the monthly effluent limit reported for five of eight months. In a report concerning the September 2017 inspection, the UV disinfection train was out of service again, in addition to other equipment being broken and out of service. 

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Dane Vanderhoof, a consultant working with the City of Larned, explains how the UV disinfectant train destroys pathogens in wastewater as it travels through the city’s wastewater facility. The cylinders contain UV lights that kill pathogens which thrive in darkness. For several months, these units were in need of bulb replacement, which led to violations of effluent limits in discharge to the Arkansas River. - photo by Veronica Coons
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Vanderhoof describes how the barscreen, when operating, filters out larger debris from wastewater early in the treatment process - photo by Veronica Coons

Administrative order received

KDHE sent a Letter of Warning to the city in June, stating that Discharge Monitoring Reports for February, March and April had not been submitted, demanding the reports and a plan outlining the procedures to ensure timely reporting in the future. 

Eilts told the Great Bend Tribune Monday that when he received the letter he contacted John Drews, the sewer department manager for the City of Larned. They discussed the reports, and Drews said he would submit them, Eilts said, adding that he offered to assist Drews where needed. Eilts claimed this was the first he’d heard of any problems at the facility, and he was surprised when he received the call from KDHE informing him to expect the administrative report. 

“I asked if it was about those reports, and I was told it was about several things,” Eilts said. 

According to the order, an Aug. 13 inspection found numerous mechanical problems:

• One UV disinfection train down

• Bar screen chain broke 

• Polymer system not in operation

• Belt broken on the grit system

• Belt filter press had not been operation since August, 2017

• Two SBR influent flow valves were not in operation on basins one and two

• Blower #1 not in service

Team assembled

Eilts assembled a team consisting of himself, Chad Lawnson and Dale Vanderhoof. Chad Lawson is a civil engineer at HW Lochner and the design engineer for the Larned facility. Dale Vanderhoof is a consultant with WW Water, a wastewater management trainer, and carries a Level 4 wastewater certification with the state. The city has contracted with him as a consultant and he has taken over that department, Eilts said. 

Eilts has been working side by side with Vanderhoof for the past two weeks. 

“Dale knows his stuff,” Eilts said. 

Drews continues to work at the facility with Vanderhoof to make the needed repairs and restore it to good working order, Eilts said. Two new employees have been hired to help too, and the city is advertising for two more, Eilts said. At least one will need to be WW4 certified, a state requirement. 

The Larned City Council met in a special session on Wednesday, Nov. 14, to discuss the findings of the administrative order.

According to Eilts, the city council has been supportive, and has asked him to move forward with efforts to bring the facility back into compliance per KDHE’s order. Those obligations should be fulfilled within the required 60 days, he said, but some of the repairs may be delayed due to lead times ordering parts from suppliers. The city is working to be as proactive as possible. 

“If we have to pay extra to expedite shipping, repair a part rather than replace, or even do some of the driving to expedite things, we are going to do that,” he said. 

The KDHE allows 30 days for the city to appeal the $23,000 fine, which Eilts plans to request.

Plant is state-of-the-art 

The City of Larned Wastewater Facility is roughly nine years old and is considered a state-of-the art facility, according to the report. It is located southeast of the city, within view of a flood control area by the river. Monday afternoon, Vanderhoof led the way through the heart of the facility where raw sewage flows in. He described the process and how each broken piece of equipment fits into the broader scope of filtration when in proper working order. 

First grit is removed, then debris is screened out before effluent passes through the UV Disinfectant train. It then pours into the basins outside, where it is aerated with blowers, and beneficial bacteria breaks down and eliminates more ... stuff. Eventually, that bacteria builds up and is later processed into a sought-after soil amendment spread on agricultural fields. Water, finally cleaned of solids and pathogens, is then ready to be released back into the environment.  

During the tour, workers carried new parts upstairs and began preparing to remove the old, broken parts. They stopped to consult with Vanderhoof briefly. When he arrived, Vanderhoof admitted he was amazed at the condition the plant had been allowed to arrive at, but was determined and confident it could be righted. 

Wastewater flows into the basins where bacteria will complete the filtration process before the water is released back into the environment. - photo by Veronica Coons

Risk to public minimal

Tom Stiles is the Assistant Director of the Bureau of Water, and Shelly Shores-Miller also works with the Bureau of Water. It was brought to their attention that the stretch of the Arkansas River between Larned and Great Bend attracts outdoors enthusiasts, and mountain biking, four-wheeling and target practice are common activities along the banks and surrounding area. They expressed caution, rather than concern, for the public frequenting the river. They noted conditions there are in a constant low-flow state which minimized the possibility of ingesting the water. 

“Anytime our public is recreating on Kansas streams or rivers,we recommend minimizing exposure by wiping down after coming in contact with water,” Stiles said.  

E. coli is an indicator organism, Shores-Miller said. Its presence means other pathogens may be present in higher numbers. But, with colder winter weather visiting the area now, that has minimized the likelihood of person/pathogen contact. Also, E. coli and other pathogens need warm, wet places unexposed to UV light to survive, and in the environment they have no protection or food supply and quickly die. 

“In light of the steps the city is now taking to ensure better disinfection, we anticipate conditions to improve,” Shores-Miller said.