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Building Resilience, Part 1: The Water Reclamation Facility

by Zachary Eichholz, Sustainability Program Manager/Resilience Planner

The City of Cape Canaveral’s Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) forms the backbone of the City’s sewer utilities - servicing all 10,000+ residents on a daily basis. The WRF is also home to Public Works Services (PWS) and all of the department's vehicular and equipment assets. After a hazard event such as a hurricane, the WRF functions as the logistical command and control center for relief and cleanup teams that undertake recovery operations throughout the community. Given the critical nature of these services - including reclaim water irrigation needs - the WRF stands as a piece of infrastructure that must maintain continuous operations.

To ensure continuity of operations while also reducing environmental impacts, City Staff have been steadily modernizing the WRF into a 21st century asset that stands ready to serve the needs of community members, both now and for decades to come, by utilizing the concepts of sustainability and resilience wherever possible. What follows are some of the initiatives being undertaken by the City to make the WRF future-ready. Major upgrades to the facility began in 2015, but have since ramped up considerably within the last two years.

Constructed in the 1960s, the WRF today handles anywhere from 1.10 to 1.20 million gallons of wastewater per day and has a capacity of 1.80 million gallons. The basic goal of the WRF is to take in sewage (also called wastewater or influent) and treat it through a 5-Stage Modifier Bardenpho process (BNR) that removes harmful pollutants and solid waste. What's left is what is known as reclaimed water, or water that has been treated and transformed into a product that is clean and safe to use as a source of irrigation. This water must meet strict water quality standards established by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The WRF and its processes are routinely audited by the FDEP to ensure compliance with these water quality standards. An onsite laboratory helps City Staff monitor the WRF’s reclaimed water quality on a daily basis.

2.5 Million Gallon Tank

In 2015, the WRF constructed the addition of a 2.5 million gallon holding tank in order to increase the amount of onsite reclaim storage capacity; thereby limiting the amount of reclaimed water discharges to the lagoon. Discharges like this must be done whenever supply exceeds capacity. It also allows for more reclaimed water to be available for irrigation purposes as well. This massive concrete tank was built atop dozens of footings that go down 60 feet to ensure structural stability. It was the largest piece of infrastructure built at the WRF in decades.

Intermediate Pump Station Rehab

In 2017, Hurricane Irma - a storm that brought over 11 inches of rainfall to much of Brevard - caused excess amounts of water to flow into the WRF. This excess caused an overflow at the plant’s intermediate pump station resulting in onsite flooding of influent. In 2021, construction was completed of a by-pass system for the intermediate pump station that will allow for overflows to be pumped directly into the clarifier for proper treatment prior to discharge to avoid any potential environmental damage. If needed, this new 173 horsepower by-pass pump can run independently off the FP&L grid via a diesel backup generator for uninterrupted services.

SCADA Upgrade

The WRF is receiving an upgraded SCADA software system in order to increase efficiency and autonomy. SCADA, or Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system, will be an independent network accessible only to Staff that will allow for easier remote real-time monitoring and direct interaction with devices such as sensors, valves, pumps, motors, etc. This will be extremely helpful during situations such as a hurricane when accessibility to the plant may not be possible. Staff will still be able to monitor and control systems from a safe location, ensuring greater continuity of operations.

Pump Enclosure Structures

Currently, most pumps and motors at the WRF are exposed to the elements, which can cause increased corrosion and subsequent breakdowns of equipment. Construction is set to begin in the near future to cover each of the WRF’s pumping areas with weather resistant aluminum housings that will be four feet off the ground. This will limit corrosion, prolong equipment life expectancy and ensure the WRF’s ability to continue operations in inclement weather conditions.

Exfiltration System Linkup

In 2016, the City completed a stormwater improvement project that included exfiltration chambers placed under Canaveral City Park. The project included the installation of over 4,000 stormwater chambers that can capture approximately 931,000 gallons of stormwater. Once inside these chambers, stormwater is allowed to percolate down into the underlying soil where it is naturally filtered. The contributing area of treatment is equivalent to 30.3 acres. Upon completion of the stormwater chamber installation, the Park was returned to its original land use while capturing runoff and preventing it from entering the Banana River Lagoon.

In 2019, the underground system was modified to be able to accept excess reclaimed water from the WRF so as to reduce the number of discharges into the lagoon. If conditions are correct, reclaimed water can be transferred directly from the WRF to the exfiltration system where the reclaimed water will gradually flow down into the porous soil below and be filtered. To date, this system has helped divert well over 40 million gallons of reclaimed water from the lagoon.

Solar Grounds Lighting

In summer of 2019, City Staff completed the conversion of all exterior ground lighting at the City’s WRF; from grid-dependent to grid-independent solar variants in an effort to reduce emissions, increase resilience in the face of power outages and lower the plant’s energy cost. With these new lights, it is estimated at least 5265-kilowatt-hours of electricity have been removed from the plant’s monthly energy demands. This equates to a reduction of 49.2 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. For some perspective, the average U.S. home uses about 867-kilowatt-hours per month according to the US Energy Information Administration. These lights, built by First Light Technologies, have the ability to perform dusk to dawn operations. After three hours of use, they will dim themselves by 25%; but if someone approaches them they will automatically return to full brightness. Each unit’s head can be independently monitored through a plant operator’s smartphone, and alert City Staff to issues should they arise.

Flood Barriers

In March 2020, PWS Staff began installing semi-permanent flood barriers at the WRF. These removable aluminum barriers are 42 inches wide by 36 inches tall. When a flood event is predicted these barriers can be quickly put into place via mounting racks set on either side of doorways. The barriers are then tightened, creating a water-tight seal. Each door’s barrier can be deployed by as little as one Staff member in under 30 seconds. This will take the place of sandbagging operations that normally take hours, allowing for more efficient storm preparations throughout other areas of the City. A total of 14 barriers have been installed at the plant to date, but more should be expected to be installed moving forward for further flood protection. 

Carbon Feed Tank

A new 6,500-gallon tank - called the Carbon Feed Tank - was installed at the WRF in 2020 that is intended to reduce the amount of nitrogen within reclaimed water discharges. This semi-enclosed tank holds microorganisms that help to breakdown material within sewage, and in doing so removes excess amounts of nitrogen. Discharge from Cape Canaveral’s WRF is some of the cleanest in the county and is routinely being filtered lower than acceptable limits allowed by the FDEP. 

Weather Station Addition

In 2020, the City deployed a remote weather station at the WRF. This weather station can take meteorological readings relating to temperature, pressure, humidity, wind direction, wind speed and accumulated rainfall. The system is linked to City computers and cell phones that allow Staff to remotely monitor weather conditions. Cape Canaveral Fire Rescue and the local Brevard County Sheriff’s Office - the primary EMS and law enforcement agencies of the City - also have direct access to this device to monitor storm conditions in real time. Knowing this weather information allows rescue and recovery teams to be better prepared for relief operations.

Disk and Drum Filter Improvements

The WRF will undergo disk and drum filter replacements to ensure that effluent quality is improved and stays within operational permit limits. The disk filters continuously help to catch fine particulate matter in the treatment process, allowing for even better water quality upon completion. These filters are replacing the obsolete sand filters. The drum filters will remove large sized inorganic debris from the influent, such as rags and rocks. The drum filters will remove 40% more debris than the current bar screen. 

Sodium Bisulfite Conversion

To improve overall safety, Staff will soon be switching to use sodium bisulfite as a method of removing chlorine after the wastewater treatment process, as it does not impose the health concerns and hazards of the former removal medium, sulfur dioxide. The existing system is in poor condition and in need of replacement. Also, Florida does not repackage sulfur dioxide containment cylinders and there is only one chemical distributor who sells them in the country. This results in cylinders being trucked in from out of state, which can become costly and delay shipment of the product.   

Beemats

Within the WRF’s grounds are two stormwater ponds. A total of three floating vegetative islands, or Beemats, sit atop these ponds housing aquatic plant species that continuously remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus from the ponds via their roots. An additional mat can be found at nearby Manatee Sanctuary Park. The plants are regularly harvested so that it can be determined how much nutrients the plants have absorbed and therefore removed from the system. The last annual report given to the City in April 2021 stated that in total over a one-year period all of the City’s Beemats removed 63.36 pounds of nitrogen and 10.56 pounds of phosphorus from the environment.

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