Sludge buildup could lead to a million-dollar project at Kewanee’s sewage treatment plant

KEWANEE, Illinois - Turning sewage back into clean water is a lengthy process.

"They just kind of flush and forget, and there is a process that has to be dealt with in an environmentally safe manor," said Gary Bradley, Kewanee's City Manager.

When someone is Kewanee flushes the toilet, the water ends up rushing through the sewer system to the sewer treatment plant on the eastern outskirts of town.

That's where micro-organisms eat and digest the waste strands. Water is cleaned then dumped into a creek.

It's what's left over that is concerning some city leaders. Sludge.

"Sludge is the bi-product that you get from running wastewater through a wastewater plant,"

Sludge is made up of the dead digestive organisms. It's a thick, mud-like substance and it is running out of places to go.

"Traditionally, we have been able to place it on farm fields that the city owns or on farm fields of local farmers," Bradley said.

However, because of EPA regulations and restrictions, only so much sludge can be dumped onto area fields and Kewanee is reaching their limit.

"Over the years we've applied it to the point where we can`t put anymore on," Bradley said.

The million-gallon lagoon where the sludge ends up at the end of the sewage treatment process is now almost full.

The city council and Kewanee's senior staff has less than two months to find a way to get rid of the sludge before they run out of room.

"I think if it would have been discussed sooner, it wouldn`t have caught myself and the city council off guard like it did," Bradley said.

Bradley told News 8 that city leaders found out about the "urgent" need for a fix during a city council meeting last week.

The City of Kewanee does have options.

They could buy a screw press, which can turn the sludge into a dirt-like substance that could then be hauled off to a landfill.

The facility and equipment upgrade would cost the city about $1 Million. It would also take time to complete the upgrades and Kewanee does not have much time.

So, the city is looking at some other short-term options as well.

"One of the options is that there are companies that will actually market this type of material to farmers," said Bradley.

The city could turn to loans to pay for capital investment. Bradley said a screw press was on site last year so that leaders could demo the tool.

The next step would be for the city council to appropriate funds to purchase a screw press that could be used to get rid of all of the sludge.

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