Treatment plant ready to serve SKIA, end waste

Following its recent expansion, Port Orchard’s West Sound Utility District is ready to serve the South Kitsap Industrial Area — if and when the time comes.

But it’s also ready to do so much more.

“The biggest crime this district commits is wasting (methane) gas,” said the plant’s director, John Poppe, explaining that the facility already re-uses what it can, but hopes to send more up the hill to the Retsil Veteran’s Home.

“We’re wasting gas right next to them,” said Larry Curles, the district’s general manager, adding that the gas the plant naturally produces as it treats the sewer water of 10,000 South Kitsap residents could save the state facility thousands of dollars a year.

Another wasteful byproduct of the plant is the one-million-plus gallons of clean, treated water that is poured back into Sinclair Inlet every day.

“This water is as clear as the water you drink,” Curles said, as two of the district’s commissioners, Bill Huntington and Jim Hart, explained that all water, no matter where it comes from, is recycled.

“There is no new water, we are just using it over and over again,” Huntington said, as Hart added “We are just speeding up the process that nature uses to clean the water.”

Or course, “nature” is the star in the plant’s process, as well.

“We are just biology farmers,” Poppe said, explaining that the facility’s most important workers are the tiny organisms that live in huge tanks and clean the water that is flushed out of the district’s customers’ homes.

To “treat” the water, Poppe said, the bacteria literally “digest” our waste. Once the solids are filtered out — some of which are shipped to Centralia to serve as fertilizer — and a few more steps completed, clean water emerges.

Water that is so clean, Poppe said, it could be used to irrigate local fields, fill decorative fountains, run washing machines, flush toilets — and is even safe to drink.

“It’s just a mindset (that prevents people from drinking it),” Poppe said, pouring a glass of water from a pipe in the plant at the end of the cleaning process.

If it doesn’t look as clear as drinking water, that is because it hasn’t been treated with hydrogen peroxide, Poppe said. However, according to its turbidity level, or amount of particles, he said it is clearer than what comes out of most drinking water plants.

“This water is better than what many countries have as drinking water,” Hart added.

Poppe said the mindset will eventually have to change, however, because water is a limited resource that is becoming increasingly scarce, particularly when so much of it is used to grow the nation’s food supply, and keep sports fields and golf courses green.

Until the mindset changes, however, Poppe and the rest of the district is focused on recycling and reusing everything he can inside the plant.

Take electricity. The plant saves hundreds of dollars on its heating and cooling bills thanks to a contraption created by employee Wes Morrell that uses the temperature of the plant’s effluent — kept at body temperature, 98.9 degrees — to warm the building by connecting the pipes of warm water to the building’s vent system.

During warmer months, Poppe said the process can be reversed to keep employees cool.

To expand these ideas beyond the plant, Curles said the district is hoping to create an education center — perhaps across the street at South Kitsap Community Park — that would focus on water and the environment.

Along with being a low-impact development structure with solar cells and heat transfer, the building would have environmental education exhibits explaining the water cycle in Kitsap County and the function of reclaimed water.

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