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The Biology of Wastewater Treatment

By Jamie Welch, Worcester Prep, Berlin, MarylandThe upgrades currently taking place at the Berlin Wastewater Treatment Plant are comprehensive, and will allow the plant to fully process all the wastewater that goes through the system down to near drinking water quality.  The technology that the Town of Berlin, MD is installing was made possible thanks to a grant and some low interest Water and Environmental Program loans from the USDA.  These upgrades will help to remove the pathogens, nutrients and other pollutants from the influent.

Technology that is being installed as part of these upgrades is called a SBR or sequencing batch reactor.  I recently spoke with Jane Kreiter, Director of Water and Wastewater for the Town of Berlin, about this new technology and got a look at the lab where the Berlin wastewater officials monitor every stage of the treatment for specific criteria.

The new SBRs being installed at Berlin’s wastewater plant will all work in essentially the same way:  there will be three different SBR tanks installed as part of the ongoing upgrades, and Kreiter says that these will contain different amounts and kinds of bacteria to break down certain types of “bad” nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous.  Giant blowers at the bottom of each tank blow varying amounts of oxygen into the tanks, causing the oxygen to slowly bubble to the top.  The oxygen is needed to maintain the biomass inside the tank so that they can be healthy and break down and remove the various constituents in the waste stream.  When the bacteria are young in the biomass, they consume and break down a lot of the nitrogen and phosphorous, but as they begin to get older, they become full and less efficient at breaking down nutrients.  When this happens, they die and fall to the bottom of the SBR.  The dead bacteria are then removed from the bottom of the tank by way of a pump assembly and sent to a digester.  The amount of bacteria and oxygen in the SBR must be constantly monitored to ensure that the right amount of contaminants will be removed at each stage of the treatment process inside the SBR.

After the influent has gone through the entire treatment process it is ready to be sent to the spray irrigation site in Libertytown, Maryland.  Samples of the treated effluent are collected as they are leaving the plant and are taken to the lab.  Kreiter was embarrassed to take me inside the cramped, temporary lab that is located inside the mobile trailer they are currently using while the regular lab is being renovated.  She assured me that this was not what the lab normally looks like and asked to “make sure to come back when we get our new lab,” which will be opening when the rest of the upgrades are completed on site.  In the lab they test for pathogens, nutrients, total suspended solids, PH levels, and biological oxygen demand.

The upgrades to the Berlin wastewater plant, when completed, will break down nutrients and contaminants in the influent to create near drinking water quality effluent. “It’s a better quality than [the water] a lot people get out of their wells,” Jane Kreiter adds.  For a 24-hour time-lapse video of part of the Berlin Wastewater Plant SBR installation, you can visit the following links: http://cosnet.co.cc/berlinwwp1 for Part 1 and http://cosnet.co.cc/berlinwwp2 for Part 2.

Jane Kreiter, Town of Berlin, Maryland, Wastewater Treatment Plant Director Jane Kreiter, discusses the biology of the treatment operation with Jamie Welch, student blogger, Worcester Prep.
Jane Kreiter, Town of Berlin, Maryland, Wastewater Treatment Plant Director, discusses the biology of the treatment operation with Jamie Welch, student blogger, Worcester Prep.

NRCS Earth Team Volunteer Makes Environmental Impact

 Dick Tremain, NRCS Iowa

Amy Plavak of Hillsboro, Oregon, used to lead multi-million dollar projects as a certified professional project manager.  Now she is one of 36,000 Earth Team volunteers working to improve the environment and restore wetlands which can clean water, reduce flooding and provide wildlife habitat. 

Earth Team is the volunteer program of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  NRCS helps private landowners, farmers and ranchers conserve, maintain and improve natural resources and the environment.    

Plavak joined the Earth Team and learned about wetlands, the NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and worked with NRCS conservationists on soil-saving and water-enhancing projects.  She eventually became responsible for updating the wetlands restoration specifications for six WRP projects totaling over 1,000 acres and preparing a detailed agreement and construction bid package for a 350-acre WRP project.  Plavak’s volunteer work is credited with saving the government money and allowing the WRP project to be completed on time. 

Plavak was the 2009 Earth Team Individual Volunteer Award winner for NRCS. 

Michele Eginoire, national Earth Team volunteer coordinator, says all Earth Team volunteers make a difference.  “We try to tailor our volunteer jobs to our volunteers’ likes and abilities.  Their work can include field work, administrative support and conservation education.  Our volunteers are a diverse group 14 years and older who support NRCS conservation efforts,” said Eginoire.  “Every Earth Team volunteer makes a contribution and every volunteer has the potential to improve the land as much as Amy Plavak.” 

NRCS has over 3,000 offices nationwide.  To learn more about being an Earth Team volunteer in your area, call 1-888-LANDCARE.

Earth Team Volunteer Amy Plavak is credited with improving the environment and saving the government money near her Oregon home.
Earth Team Volunteer Amy Plavak is credited with improving the environment and
saving the government money near her Oregon home.
    

 

Indiana Housing Manager Receives USDA National Award

Written by Darrell J. Mowery, USDA Rural Development Public Information CoordinatorChristal Stidham has been chosen as the National 2010 Site Manager of the Year for Family Housing for the USDA Rural Development’s Multi-Family Housing program.  Ms. Stidham operates Village Apartments II in Scottsburg, Indiana.

Originally selected as the Indiana Site Manager of the Year for Family Housing, Stidham then competed for the national honor.  The award was formally presented to her Tuesday morning, June 15th, at the Ritz-Carlton-Pentagon City, Arlington, Virginia.

A Site Manager of the Year sets a standard of excellence; excellence in tenant satisfaction, maintaining curb appeal of the project, accurate and complete record keeping, and generally performing above and beyond normal expectations.  Christal Stidham has achieved this and much more.  Village Apartments II of Scottsburg is well maintained and managed.  The tenants are very satisfied and happy to have her as a manager.

Village Apartments II had a fire which took place in May 2009.  Christal went above and beyond the call of duty that day.  She took charge and only thought of the safety of her residents and their pets during the extreme situation.  Christal’s true character came out when faced with this emergency.

Phil Lehmkuhler, USDA Rural Development Indiana State Director said, “The site managers guarantee the success of our housing complexes.  They make sure the day-to-day operations go smoothly and they often invest a great deal of their own free time in providing tenants with a safe and cohesive community.  Although these managers would do their jobs whether or not they received recognition, we believe we should reward excellent performance.”

USDA Rural Development administers a national loan portfolio of over 16,000 rural rental housing complexes.  In partnership with private sector and nonprofit borrowers, RD houses very low- and low-income rural families, elderly people, and farm workers.  The site managers of the housing complexes are employees of private companies, not the U.S. Government. Also receiving awards yesterday were Nancy Fargo of New York and Tami Egeland of North Dakota.

Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA’s web site at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov

Christal Stidham (left) and Tina Richardson, USDA Rural Development Area Technician for the Indiana North Vernon Area Office, celebrate Tuesday’s award presentation.
Christal Stidham (left) and Tina Richardson, USDA Rural Development Area Technician for
the Indiana North Vernon Area Office, celebrate Tuesday’s award presentation.

NRCS Chief Dave White Attends USET Semi-Annual Meeting

Written by Fay Garner, Public Affairs Assistant, NRCS, Alabama

NRCS Chief Dave White joined members of the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET), Inc. and other agency leaders at the USET semi-annual meeting in Mobile, Alabama, June 14-17, 2010. USET’s 25 Tribal members are dedicated to enhancing the development of Indian Tribes and improving the capabilities of Tribal governments. They also assist the member Tribes and their governments in dealing effectively with public policy issues and in serving the broad needs of Indian people.

On Tuesday, June 15, a number of people, including Chief White, toured the PBCI reservation to view practices installed using NRCS financial assistance programs. The group also included Chairman Buford Rolin of the Atmore, Alabama Federally recognized Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PBCI); NRCS Assistant Chief Walt Douglas; and Alabama NRCS State Conservationist Bill Puckett. The group saw diverse projects such as cross-fencing, watering facilities and livestock shade structures. They also viewed improvements on the Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve timber property and recreational facilities.

On Wednesday, June 16, Chief White will speak to the USET Board of Directors to inform them about the technical and financial assistance available to implement conservation activities on Tribal lands that conserve soil, water, air and wildlife resources.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians installed 41 watering facilities. The watering facilities improve plant health by allowing forage plants to rest, making it easier to manage animal waste and improving water quality.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians installed 41 watering facilities. The watering facilities improve plant health by
allowing forage plants to rest, making it easier to manage animal waste and improving water quality.

USDA Rural Development Puerto Rico Celebrates Homeownership Month Activity at the Southeastern Affordable Housing Management Association (SAHMA) Convention

By Miguel A. Ramírez, Public Affairs CoordinatorLast week the Southeastern Affordable Housing Management Association (SAHMA) held its annual convention in Puerto Rico.  Three hundred eighty housing managers participated in the convention. Arlene Zambrana, USDA Rural Housing Program Director and her staff were also present.Rural Development Officials talked about the Homeownership Month Celebration and the success stories we had with funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Officials explained the current funding availabilities the Agency has under consideration during June 2010, and the Multifamily Housing Program and Civil Rights Program that protect the residents of the housing projects.The Housing Administrator had a face to face meeting with Federal, State and Municipal Agency’s representatives where they discussed the things we are doing well and the things that needed improvement.USDA Rural Development Puerto Rico is working really hard promoting our Rural Housing Programs this month, with meetings around the island, newspapers articles and TV appearances of José Otero-García, State Director,  promoting our Agency’s Rural Housing Program and success stories.

The Juice on Summer Peaches and Plums

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.By Kathleen Phillips, Texas A&M AgriLife CommunicationsA fresh, juicy peach makes a good addition to a summer lunch bag or picnic. Warm or chilled, you know you have a good one when you have to chase a stream of peach juice with a napkin.

So my recent visit with food chemist Dr. Luis Cisneros-Zevallos and peach breeder Dr. David Byrne was bound to conjure notions of hand-cranked peach ice cream or fresh slices topped with heavy cream.

Turns out, the Texas AgriLife Research scientists have an even better use: to cure breast cancer, even the most aggressive kind, without hurting healthy cells. That’s what they’ve done in the lab with two phenolic compounds in stone fruits.

What’s “phenolic,” you ask? The phenols are organic compounds that may affect traits such as aroma, taste or color.  The two in this case are chlorogenic and neochlorogenic

Many want to know where to get these compounds, if one can cook the peach or eat it raw, and whether these substances might work on other cancers. None of that is known yet – research like this is often a very long process to make sure it’s safe; so far no human clinical trials have been done…

But what this Texas duo has found is deliciously promising: to kill cancer cells and not healthy cells would make chemotherapy much more tolerable.

Their search began with the discovery that antioxidants and phytonutrients in plums equal or surpass so-called super fruits like blueberries. That called for a check against cancer.

“We chose breast cancer because it’s one of the cancers with highest incidence among women. So it is of big concern,” Cisneros-Zevallos said.

The National Cancer Institute counted 194,000 new cases and 40,610 deaths from breast cancer in 2009. The World Health Organization reports that breast cancer accounts for 16 percent of the cancer deaths of women globally.

Byrne plans to see how researchers who breed peach and plum varieties can make sure these compounds are bred into new fruit varieties Cisneros-Zevallos will continue testing these compounds in different types of cancer.

The work was supported by the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

Breast cancer cells -- even the most aggressive type -- died after treatments with peach and plum extracts in lab tests at Texas AgriLife Research.
Breast cancer cells — even the most aggressive type — died after treatments with
peach and plum extracts in lab tests at Texas AgriLife Research.