How Future Trends and Expanding Requirements in the Wastewater Industry Will Impact Operators


The many emerging challenges facing the wastewater treatment industry have rendered the task of planning decisions–both near and long-term–a far more complex one than ever before. As a result, it’s increasingly critical for operators in the wastewater industry to include strategic exercises like future mapping and scenario planning when examining the impact that expanding requirements and new trends could have, and when charting their course on how best to respond.

Wastewater treatment technology has already started to evolve to address these emerging challenges, and operators are now able to begin implementing cutting edge solutions to ensure the quality of their operations. Many of these technologies are focused on addressing these six key trends:


1. Stricter Nutrient Removal Regulations

Wastewater from industrial and residential areas contains nutrients that might not be removed easily using traditional treatment processes, particularly large quantities of phosphorus and nitrogen, which are then dumped into the environment.

Biological nutrients pollute surface water and cause excessive algae growth. The algae then generate toxic ammonia and microcystins, which are toxins that cause health issues in humans if they drink contaminated water.

The EPA’s regulations require wastewater plant operators to monitor phosphorus and microcystin levels and use biological nutrient removal (BNR) to remove nitrogen to between 8 and 10 mg/L and nitrogen (using denitrification) to a level of between 1 and 3mg/L before discharging the water.

Nutrient extraction requires accurate monitoring. Traditionally, ion-selective electrode (ISE) and colorimetric methods measured nutrient levels, but the advent of new ion chromatography has revolutionized the process, providing faster and more efficient measurements.


2. Better Energy Management Requirements

About 2% of all electricity produced in the world is used for wastewater aeration. It makes financial and environmental sense, therefore, for treatment plants to run as efficiently as possible. The following are some of the steps operators are now taking:

  • Monitoring Current Process Performance: Evaluate energy-efficiency and consumption of power to identify deficient equipment, operational needs, and necessary maintenance.
  • Operational Changes: Adopting new solutions like Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR) technology helps increase the efficiency of the aeration step of wastewater treatment, slashing energy costs by as much as 75%.
  • Producing energy from wastewater: Production of methane using anaerobic digesters allows for the generation of clean, off-grid energy for the facility.


3. Sustainability in Operations

One of the most important paradigms shifts happening is the advance of sustainable sanitation in a circular economy, where wastewater is an important resource, not a liability. Moving forward, we expect wastewater treatment plants to treat effluent to different levels of quality that can satisfy the demand from a range of sectors.

The sustainable model means that wastewater processing supports the environment by providing recycled water that is free of toxins and even safe to drink. This would free the world’s scarce sources of freshwater for preservation or other uses. The byproducts of the wastewater treatment process are also valuable for energy generation and agriculture, making the plants financially sustainable for the operators and friendlier to the environment. Recovery and reuse at plants will transform the sanitation industry from an expensive service to one that adds value to the economy and is self-sustaining.


4. Treatment for Non-Traditional Contaminants

Emerging Pollutants (EPs) is a term that refers to compounds and chemicals that researchers have recently identified as a danger to the environment and human health. The “emerging” label is also used to highlight the increasing levels of concern attached to them. Additionally, many emerging pollutants do not fall under any regulation or legislation in many countries, posing further risk to people’s well-being and the health of the environment.

Emerging pollutants contain many toxic compounds that include steroids, hormones, industrial chemicals, antibiotics, endocrine disruptors, heavy metals, fertilizers, microplastics, and microbeads.

To combat the significant threat posed by non-traditional contaminants, operators of wastewater treatment plants must adopt new remediation options that effectively remove EPs from wastewater. These methods include advanced oxidation, biological treatment, adsorption technology, and membrane technology.


5. Increased Community Engagement

Few people would gladly welcome the establishment of a wastewater treatment plant in their backyard. Still, rapid population growth makes new facilities necessary, even if it sparks occasional discontent and debate within the neighboring communities.

Wastewater industry professionals can expect communities to continue to demand that they play a part in the planning process for the setup and improvement of utility projects.

The steps that plant operators should be prepared to undertake in response include:

  • Holding sessions where the community can offer suggestions.
  • Providing information on how the plant reduces pollution from effluent.
  • Showing how green energy generated from the wastewater treatment process is great for the environment.

6. Aging Infrastructure

Few people would gladly welcome the establishment of a wastewater treatment plant in their backyard. Still, rapid population growth makes new facilities necessary, even if it sparks occasional discontent and debate within the neighboring communities.

Various water treatment facilities now face the problems that come with aging infrastructure. Old sanitation equipment is inefficient, expensive to repair, and generally consumes more energy than more modern models.

There are several ways to tackle the problem of aging infrastructure and equipment, but most of them focus on evaluating the performance, condition, and useful life of the plant’s process equipment. This helps in planning to avoid future public health emergencies or interruptions to service.

Technology also increasingly comes into play here with pressure management and acoustic monitoring to identify leaks in effluent pipes before they become breaks.


Get Exceptional Wastewater Technology Integration Solutions

ICA Engineering provides expert system integration solutions if you need the technology to help your plant navigate the challenges of emerging trends and regulatory requirements. Talk to us for advice on future-proofing your wastewater treatment and collection operations while ensuring EPA compliance.



Image credit: Piqsels @ Creative Commons

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