Riverhead’s upgraded sewage treatment plant has received a national award for innovation and excellence.
The Water Environment Federation, a nonprofit technical and educational organization representing water quality professionals around the world, has honored the Riverhead facility with one of three project excellence awards this year.
Officials from H2M Architects and Engineers, the firm that designed and implemented a $24 million facility upgrade at the Riverhead plant, presented the town board with the award at the start of last night’s meeting.
“It’s a state-of-the-art project that is really going to set the standard not only on Long Island but even nationally,” said H2M president and CEO Rich Humann.
With the upgrade, the plant, originally built in the 1930s, became Long Island’s first water resource recovery facility, capable of diverting up to 500,000 gallons per day of treated effluent from the Peconic River to irrigation uses on the adjacent county-owned golf course as well as on the sewer district property itself.
The award is a great honor, the deputy director of H2M’s wastewater division, Chris Weiss, said last night. “Each year only three projects are selected to receive this award,” Weiss said. “In 2017 Riverhead was one of them.” The other two were vastly larger facilities in Chicago and Alexandria, Virginia.
“Riverhead really led the way here in New York State,” Weiss said. “It is the first place to bring water resource applications to a wastewater treatment plant in the state. It was not mandated by regulation and it was not done because there was a water resource emergency, but because it was the right thing to do — and that resonated with the Water Environment Federation,” Weiss said.
The plant accepts waste by pipeline from properties within the Riverhead Sewer District and by truckload from properties in the towns of Riverhead and Southampton that are served by private septic systems. As a result of the upgrade, it can treat up to 1.5 million gallons of wastewater per day to the technological limit of under 4 milligrams of nitrogen per liter. Using membrane technology and high-dose ultraviolet disinfection, the plant treats for a host of other pathogens as well, including viruses.
Using some of the effluent for irrigation reduces nitrogen-loading in the Peconic Estuary by 1.4 tons per year. Nitrogen pollution contributes to harmful algal blooms and increases aquatic plant growth in water bodies, which in turn consume too much oxygen. That can deplete oxygen to levels that cannot support marine life, resulting in massive fish kills like the ones seen in the Peconic in 2015.
The upgrade and reuse project was completed in 2016 with financial assistance from federal, state and county governments.
Riverhead’s facility has received accolades from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which in 2015 honored Riverhead Sewer District superintendent Michael Reichel with an environmental champion award. Reichel advocated for the reuse project for three decades.
In accepting the award from H2M’s president last night, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter thanked Reichel, whom he called “the impetus” for the project.
“We operate the most advanced wsatwater treatment plant in New York State,” Walter said. “This shows our commitment to the environment.”