Innovative Technologies

Innovative technologies are helping MSD improve water quality in local streams and rivers while keeping costs in check. The technologies, which range from real-time controls to algae from the South pole and satellite imagery to DNA genetic markers, are highlighted below:

Smarter Sewers

MSD is building a smarter sewer system that will help reduce sewer overflows into our creeks and rivers. And the cost is less than any other solution, gray or green.

Like many wastewater utilities across the nation, MSD is faced with an unfunded Consent Decree (federal mandate) to keep raw sewage mixed with stormwater out of our waterways when it rains.

Wet Weather SCADA (click for larger view)

Over the last two years, MSD has been working to develop a smarter sewer system that uses our existing sewer system more efficiently and effectively and is more affordable to our ratepayers. For example, when it rains in one part of Cincinnati, the interceptor sewers in that location may be full, but other areas where it hasn’t rained may have lots of available capacity. This approach allows MSD to store flows inside large interceptor sewers, storage tanks, and high-rate treatment facilities in different parts of the sewer system using sensors to measure flow levels and gates and valves to direct the flows. The entire system is controlled by a SCADA computer system. This helps keep sewage in the pipes and out of our creeks.

In early 2015, MSD deployed its new smart sewer system in the Mill Creek basin, which covers the central portion of Hamilton County. Within the first several weeks of operation, the technology was used to store flows at a high-rate treatment facility, avoiding 1.4 million gallons in sewer overflows at a location nearly 11 miles away. The cost savings results from not having to build as many new capital projects to reduce the overflows, such as larger sewers and storage tanks. Gray infrastructure in particular is very expensive and takes a long time to plan and construct.

Early data shows that smarter sewers cost about $0.01/gallon of overflow volume reduced, as compared to about $0.23/gallon for green stormwater controls and about $0.40/gallon for larger pipes and storage tanks. South Bend, Ind. recently invested in a similar technology, which is projected to reduce its Consent Decree spending by about 27%. MSD's smart sewer system is anticipated to save tens of millions of dollars in capital investments in projects to control sewer overflows.

MSD would like to advance this technology, known officially as Wet Weather Optimization, in other MSD basins. The utility would also like to invest in a new operational project to upsize the underflow pipes between local sewers and interceptor sewers in the Mill Creek basin to allow interceptor pipes to hold even more flow.

View the write-up in the Fall/Winter 2017 edition of Sustain Magazine. Also view our Smarter Sewers animation.

View the Wet Weather Operational Optimization program plan 2014-2018.

Fighting Algae with Algae

Wastewater is loaded with organic matter and nutrients like ammonia and phosphorus. During warm weather, nutrient-loving microorganisms or “bugs” in the secondary aeration tanks do a great job of “eating” the excess nutrients. But during colder weather, the bacteria can become dormant, causing increased levels of nutrients in the effluent discharged to local streams and rivers, which can potentially lead to permit violations or algal blooms.

To address this challenge, MSD is developing an all-weather, algae-based technology to remove and recover nutrients from wastewater. A native Ohio algae and an algae from the Antarctic (South pole) have been tested in the laboratory and show promising results.

MSD is now focusing on pilot studies of both strains of algae, with the goal of blending the two types of algae to create a nutrient removal system that works in all temperatures.

Future of Disinfection

Disinfection of treated effluent prior to discharging it into a local stream or river is an essential part of the wastewater treatment process. Although most solids, organic matter, and metals are removed from wastewater during the treatment process, the effluent still contains bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing organisms. Disinfection is the only way to destroy these pathogens to maintain water quality and prevent disease.

MSD’s plants currently use sodium hypochlorite or ultraviolet (UV)-based systems. Both methods are highly effective, but are either expensive or create byproducts.

To address these challenges, MSD is currently evaluating peracetic acid and performic acid as potential alternative disinfectants. Testing in the lab and pilot studies are part of this evaluation. MSD’s ultimate goal is to improve the environment, conserve energy, and reduce the cost of wastewater treatment at MSD plants.

DNA Source Tracking

MSD partnered with the U.S. EPA and University of Cincinnati to develop an analytical laboratory method that uses DNA and RNA (genetic markers) to detect where pollutants in local streams and rivers are coming from and their quantities. The genetic markers can tell you whether the pollutant is animal fecal matter or from a human and can also identify pollutant loadings such as sewer overflows vs. leaking septic systems.

MSD is using this information to support decision-making for capital projects related to sewer overflows or stormwater management. The method also helps MSD communicate and collaborate with other local agencies, such as the health department, park district or environmental services to reduce water quality impacts from other sources.

Remote Sensing

MSD is pilot testing a new technology that uses satellite images of local streams and rivers – combined with a proprietary algorithm – to detect pollutant loadings and hot spots on a watershed scale. The technology was developed by Blue Water Satellite, Inc. with the assistance of Black & Veatch, a national design engineering firm. One pilot study focused on total suspended solids, phosphorus, phycocyanin, and chlorophyll-a in the Ohio River during normal river conditions. A second pilot study looked at hot spots in communities on septic systems.

MSD is using this information to support decision-making for capital projects related to sewer overflows or stormwater management. The method also helps MSD communicate and collaborate with other local agencies, such as the health department, park district or environmental services to reduce water quality impacts from other sources.

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