By DOUG GRAVES
HARRISON, Ohio — Whitewater Processing Co. in Harrison is a thriving business, slaughtering and processing 6,000-8,000 turkeys on any given day and producing nearly three million pounds of turkey in an average month. Several members of the Kopp family manage and run this business.
Things didn’t always operate so smoothly. In the 1990s, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had concerns about the 145,000 gallons of wastewater it produces each day, which nearly brought this business of 110 employees to a halt. The fear was that the company’s open-lagoon wastewater treatment system was too close to the Whitewater River.
Thanks to an Ohio State University researcher and the design of a first-of-its-kind water treatment system, though, this poultry farm plans to save $10 million over the next-best option. “It’s working very well and we’re excited about it,” said Ryan Kopp, Whitewater project manager.
OSU extension water quality specialist and environmental scientist Karen Mancl began working with Whitewater to alleviate this problem. Mancl’s studies showed bioreactors provide an effective way to treat high-fat, high-organic-matter wastewater at a relatively low cost. Her idea used a sand bioreactor system to treat wastewater.
Whitewater officials had the option of hooking up to Harrison’s municipal wastewater treatment plant, but the company would still need to pre-treat its water to remove pollutants the municipal system wasn’t designed to handle. The total cost for the construction of the pretreatment facility and the hookup with Harrison’s plant over 20 years was estimated at $12.5 million.
And while their actual costs have been considerable – roughly $1 million to build the wastewater treatment system, plus an estimated $1.8 million to operate and maintain it for the next 20 years – the Kopp family figures the business will save at least $10 million over that alternative.
“And it likely would have been even more,” Kopp said. “They had given us some estimates for future increases in treatment costs when we first looked at that option, and so far the actual increases have been more than they projected. With all of Karen’s work we knew the system would work well, it was just a matter of scaling up to what we needed for commercial use.”
According to Mancl, the wastewater is screened to remove as much of the suspended solids as possible before it is flowed through beds of sand and gravel. Microbes quickly populate the surface of the sand grains and gravel pieces, and they feast on the organic matter, breaking it down and removing it from the water. Treated water, she explained, runs clear.
Whitewater’s bioreactor system covers four acres of land adjacent to the facility.
“If you visit, it looks like a park,” Mancl said. “All you see are 12 large rectangles of gravel, and grass is all around them. Under the gravel are the pipes that carry the wastewater and spray it, underground, onto the sand. It’s quiet and there’s no odor. The area is not ugly. They plan to plant trees to make it more attractive.”
Of concern is having the system become overwhelmed and clogged. “If the sand was to get clogged, that filter would be turned off and rested, and the wastewater would then be sent to another cell. The microbes would consume the wastes that have clogged the filter and unclog it. This takes about four months.”
The amount of wastewater generated at Whitewater requires the use of eight bioreactor cells at a time. Whitewater is building 12 cells to have the backups needed to let filters rest.
Mancl and Kopp envision a day when greenhouses could be built on top of the bioreactors or on another nearby three acres. Even bigger, the two believe such a system could work well at other food-related processing facilities.