ECUA’s Bayou Marcus Water Reclamation Facility Suffers Biological Process Upset

The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority’s (ECUA’s) Bayou Marcus Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) experienced a disruption to the plant’s biological process this week, caused by what appears to have been several separate incidents of toxic discharges to the wastewater collection system.  The biological treatment component at the facility relies on various types of beneficial bacteria to complete parts of the process.  Many of these bacteria need an environment that contains oxygen.  The Bayou Marcus WRF treatment process was disrupted due to the complete depletion of the oxygen in the treatment process.  This oxygen depletion caused the killing of the bacteria, resulting in the plant’s inability to adequately treat the wastewater that was received at the facility.  Additionally, the substance that was discharged into the collection system may have directly killed the bacterial in the plant as well.

The ECUA staff has obtained samples of the wastewater influent, and is in the process of conducting laboratory analyses in an effort to determine the probable chemical make-up and source of the illegal discharges.  Following the first incident early in the week, ECUA staff diverted discharge flows from the plant to a reject storage pond, which is used when the reclaimed water quality does not meet operating permit requirements.  The plant staff made an effort to re-establish the treatment process when additional toxic influent was received on Wednesday, which resulted in the killing of the bacteria in the plant again. 

The plant is conducting screening, sedimentation, partial biological treatment, filtration, and disinfection processes; however, the current reclaimed water produced through the plant will not be of the same high quality that meets permit requirements.

ECUA has made notifications to the State Warning Point, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Escambia County Health Department (ECHD).  Based on discussions with the ECHD staff, the current situation does not necessitate the issuance of any health alerts at this time.  The ECUA will coordinate with the staff at the Health Department and conduct daily monitoring of the adjacent wetlands to assess the potential need for future issuance of any health alerts for the areas near the plant.  The ECUA has made the decision to close access to the boardwalk on the Bayou Marcus Wetlands until such time that the treatment process is re-established and the reclaimed water discharge meets permit requirements.

This process upset comes one week after the Bayou Marcus WRF was recognized with a Gold Peak Performance Award from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) for operation of the plant with 100% permit compliance during the 2010 calendar year.  The recent NACWA Gold Award is the 12th annual award the plant staff has received through the past thirteen years. 

About ECUA: Originally founded as the Escambia County Utilities Authority in 1981 by a Special Act of the Florida Legislature and is a local governmental body, existing under the laws of the State of Florida. The Authority has expertise in multiple facets of utility service, including engineering, policy formulation, customer service, and communications. The Authority’s name was officially changed to the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority on June 29, 2004