NEW Water’s Innovative Resource Recovery and Adaptive Management Programs Protect the Environment and Reduce Costs
The vision of NEW Water, the brand of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, is “Protecting our most valuable resource, water.” The utility’s commitment to that vision is demonstrated through two initiatives that also help advance NEW Water as a Water Resources Utility of the Future. First, the Resource Recovery and Electrical Energy (R2E2) project was the catalyst for a transformation in mindset at NEW Water by treating the materials it receives from its customers as resources to be recovered and reused rather than wastes to be disposed. Second, the Adaptive Management program uses the resources and expertise of NEW Water staff in the watershed to work with agriculture producers, landowners, and interested stakeholders to limit the impacts of nutrients and sediment on surface water.
The R2E2 project was designed to demonstrate that using fluid-bed incineration with solids handling could both recover and minimize the use of resources. Anaerobic digestion is used to recover energy from municipal solids in the form of biogas as well as co-digest high-strength hauled waste, which has increased gas production by 25% above what is generated by municipal solids alone. Digestor gas in internal combustion engine generators is then used to produce electricity. The heat from the engines and incinerator is then captured and reused to dry the solids before incineration, which also heats the buildings. Struvite, which can be a maintenance problem in the facilities for piping and pumps unless properly managed, is recovered for sale as a slow-release fertilizer.
One-third of all nutrients entering Lake Michigan comes from the Fox River. NEW Water is committed to reducing phosphorus loading on a watershed scale. NEW Water identified several years ago that spending over $150 million to upgrade its two water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs) to remove incremental amounts of phosphorus from their effluent was an inefficient use of limited customer resources. Instead, NEW Water is implementing an alternative compliance method called Adaptive Management that allows point sources in Wisconsin to work with nonpoint sources (urban or rural stormwater) to achieve an equal or greater reduction of phosphorus in the watershed than is required by the WRRF permit at a lower cost than grey infrastructure improvements at the WRRFs.
In 2014, NEW Water began the Silver Creek Pilot Adaptive Management project in a 4,800-acre sub-watershed in the Lower Fox River Basin to gain experience in Adaptive Management prior to committing to a 20-year full-scale permit compliance program. Results from the pilot project showed that NEW Water, through the Adaptive Management approach, could successfully work with farmers to implement BMPs and improve water quality; significantly increase the number of stakeholders engaged in watershed activities; and facilitate a higher level of discussion, understanding, and action on improving how we live in the watershed and the resulting impacts on water quality.
In 2018, NEW Water began a 20-year full-scale Adaptive Management program in the 38,000 acre Dutchman and Ashwaubenon Creek watersheds in the Lower Fox River Basin. NEW Water is utilizing the partnerships developed during the pilot project and implementing similar agricultural BMPs.
NEW Water was recognized with a National Environmental Achievement Award for exemplifying what it means to be a Water Resources Utility of the Future, during NACWA’s Winter Conference last February. Congratulations to the NEW Water and everyone involved!