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Sewer plant tour answers some questions about it

The Town of Chino Valley began operating its developer-financed sewage treatment plant in July 2004.

Fann Contracting Inc. built the $7 million sewer plant on Old Home Manor Drive to handle 125,000 gallons of sewage of day, and will expand the plant in increments of that amount.

Only about 65 homes hooked up to the plant as of Dec. 20, James Creaghe, chief plant operator for Fann Environmental LLC, said during a tour that afternoon. Fann Environmental is a subsidiary of Fann Contracting, and operates the sewage plant.

However, Chino Valley voters on Nov. 8 approved a $15.4 million plan to expand the plant by an additional 250,000 gallons per day to connect an estimated 1,100 homes in the Chino Meadows neighborhood. Town officials sold the ballot measure as a means of protecting the aquifer from potential nitrate pollution from septic tanks.

The plant provides tertiary (third-stage) treatment by separating solid wastes from water and treating the water so that it is safe enough to recharge into the aquifer about a mile and a half away.

The operations of the sewer plant and the recharge basin became the subject of a tour for about 10 people Dec. 20.

Creaghe conducted the tour at the request of Carol Diamond, a Chino Meadows homeowner and a member of the town’s short-lived sewer advisory committee.

The tour began in the headworks building, where Creaghe explained how machines separate inorganic solids from the water and organic materials, which flow into a series of processing tanks. The machines dry the solids into a sludge that is trucked to the Graywolf landfill near Dewey-Humboldt.

The only sewage arriving at the plant during its first year of operation came from emptied septic tanks, Creaghe told a gathering that consisted of four real estate agents, a chiropractor and others.

“It’s amazing what we find in septic systems,” he said, and mentioned rocks, cans and toys.

Organic matter, he explained, is anything that the “bugs” (bacteria) that are swimming around in the processing tanks break down. He added that the headworks building is the only structure at the location with an odor.

Creaghe took the group to the tanks where blowers inject oxygen for bacteria. A sparger created bubbles to mix the organic solids. Muddy water churned in a tank within view of the tour participants, and foam formed around the churning fluid.

“This is the newest technology on the market,” Creaghe told the participants.

Another sewer plant may be in the works for Chino Valley, said Town Manager Bill Pupo, who stayed for a portion of the tour. He added that town staff is updating the wastewater management plan to determine future sewer needs.

The tour took participants to a small building where ultraviolet light kills pathogens remaining in the effluent (treated sewage) after being exposed for no longer than 30 seconds. Creaghe displayed a small container of water that underwent UV treatment.

Creaghe fielded a number of questions during the tour.

Responding to one question, he said the main concerns for the aquifer are nitrates from septic tanks and arsenic, which occurs naturally in the ground.

Returning to the headworks building, Creaghe used a shovel to display dried sludge, which goes to the landfill. He described the sludge as being high in quality.

“I am just very impressed with how clean it is,” commented Gloria Moore, a real estate agent.

He concluded the tour at one of five percolation basins where the plant recharges the effluent into the aquifer. Tour participants followed him along dirt roads in their vehicles.

Small ponds appeared in a basin where the plant is recharging the effluent, Creaghe pointed out.

Responding to a question, he said the aquifer beneath the site was 215 feet deep in late October. The soil is volcanic at the location.

After the tour, real estate agent Kim Rock said she learned information that she can pass on to potential clients.

Diamond said she sought the tour because she had doubts about the need for the sewer plant expansion based on what she learned from reading the voter pamphlet on the sewer measure.

“I still think we need a lot more data,” she said after the tour. “I just want to see what the facts are.”

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