Top 5 Challenges Wastewater Utilities Are Facing Today

By Ursinio Puga, Professional Engineer, WSB

Managing local water and wastewater systems can be a complicated and challenging task that has a huge impact on residents and local businesses. Waiting to find solutions just isn’t an option. Below we discuss the top five challenges facing city wastewater systems today. Addressing these challenges before they become a real problem is key to continued success in your community.

Aging Infrastructure: The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave our nationwide infrastructure (including wastewater treatment plants) a D+ grade. Minnesota wastewater treatment facilities are not immune to the aging infrastructure issue. Wastewater treatment facilities generally have a design life of 20-years. The need to start planning for repair and replacement of facilities is a continuous cycle.

Funding: Utilities know upgrades are needed due to growth and capacity limitations, aging infrastructure, and new effluent limits. Funding sources in Minnesota for improvement projects include Public Facilities Authority (PFA) low interest loans and new limits are typically eligible for Point Source Implementation Grants (PSIG). The best funding option for each facility will depend on its unique situation. It is important that utilities manage connection fees and user rates appropriately to ensure funds are available to pay for improvements.

Effluent Limits:  Ever evolving effluent limits are a constant challenge for wastewater utilities. Wastewater facilities in Minnesota are receiving stringent effluent phosphorus, total nitrogen, total dissolved solids (TDS), and chloride limits. Each of these limits typically require upgrades or additional processes to the wastewater facility. A unique situation for utilities is the lower chloride effluent limit. This may require upgrades to a community’s drinking water treatment plant to provide softened water to users so that chlorides are not added to wastewater streams by private water softeners.

Biosolids Handling:  Biosolids are very challenging to treat and dispose of for any wastewater facility.  The processing of biosolids generally depends on available resources/funding at the utility and the staffing levels of wastewater operators. Stringent effluent limits such as lower phosphorus limits are significantly increasing the volume of biosolids generated at wastewater treatment facilities.  Emerging PFAS regulations are adding further challenges to the final disposal of biosolids from wastewater treatment facilities.

Operations Personnel:  Like many industries, the wastewater treatment industry has been greatly impacted by a shortage of operations staff. This shortage of operations staff is due to an aging work force retiring and smaller numbers of replacement staff entering the operations field. The shortage of operations staff is also enhanced by reclassification of wastewater treatment facilities to Class A and B facilities to meet stringent effluent limits. Utilities need to plan accordingly to minimize impacts from operational staff shortages by promoting education, training, and advancement of operation staff. Utilities must also implement a staff retention plan or engage with an outside consultant to maintain or increase their staffing levels.

WSB’s team of experts are available to help with any or all the wastewater challenges discussed here. We leverage and advance technology to provide system assessments, facility plans, funding services, engineering design, construction administration and observation, and on-going personnel support for wastewater systems. 

Ursinio provides infrastructure planning, modeling, design, bidding, and construction administration services to both industrial and municipal clients across the Midwest. He has extensive experience in a wide variety of treatment pilot projects ranging from biological filtration of drinking water to UV disinfection of wastewater.

[email protected] | 612.499.9018

Related Insights

We've got our eyes on the horizon.

All Insights

Learn more from our industry leaders.

We are always looking forward to what is next in infrastructure, click here to read about more ways we are influencing the industry.

Read more