A partnership with Artesian Resources Corporation will allow a Harbeson poultry processing plant to stop dumping its treated wastewater into Beaverdam Creek.
The partnership calls for sending treated wastewater and stormwater from Allen Harim’s Route 5 plant miles north to a new, yet-to-be-built facility near Milton.
About 1.5 million gallons per day of treated wastewater used in poultry production and stormwater runoff collected from the facility will be disposed of on more than 1,300 acres of fields off Route 30. A much smaller amount of wastewater from the plant’s restrooms - about 30,000 gallons per day - will go to a community wastewater treatment facility owned by Artesian, down the road from the Harbeson plant.
“We see this as a partnership,” said Artesian President and CEO Dian Taylor. “It’s the environmentally right thing to do.”
Taylor said Artesian’s solution for Allen Harim’s wastewater will address environmental concerns raised by state officials and neighbors.
Concerns arose last year after the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control cited Allen Harim for dozens of wastewater-related violations, when it was discovered that equipment malfunctions at the Harbeson facility led to polluted water entering the creek. State officials cited the company for discharging wastewater and stormwater containing high levels of nutrients and bacteria - levels far exceeding permit limits - into the creek.
After Allen Harim announced its partnership with Artesian in early 2017, Allen Harim President and CEO Joe Moran said the plant was in compliance with discharge permit requirements, and the “blips” that resulted in polluting the creek in 2012-13 and 2015-16 had been corrected.
Moran said Allen Harim has spent about $11 million since early 2016 upgrading the plant's wastewater treatment facility to meet more stringent wastewater and stormwater treatment requirements posed by an updated state permit.
“We've had positive responses from all our neighbors around the area,” Moran said in a late-April phone interview. “They wanted to see us get out of the creek.”
Allen Harim will continue treating all wastewater and stormwater runoff onsite. The only difference is that it will be transported by pipeline to Artesian facilities for disposal. Only stormwater runoff from the plant's parking lot will continue to flow into Beaverdam Creek, a tributary of Broadkill River and Delaware Bay.
Where will the wastewater go?
A decade ago, Artesian Water Company purchased about 75 acres on Route 30, just north of the Town of Milton, because company officials knew the increased rate of development in southern Delaware would soon place pressure on existing wastewater treatment facilities.
“It's nothing new,” Taylor said. “We always had the vision and we knew that we had the solution for Sussex County, and we made that investment.”
At the same time, the company secured contracts with nearby landowners to spray effluent on about 1,300 acres.
It wasn't until Allen Harim partnered with Artesian for wastewater treatment that the private water utility started moving forward with plans to build a lagoon and pump station at Artesian's Northern Sussex Water Recycling Facility, or ANSWRF, on Route 30.
“We are busy permitting the lagoon that will hold the effluent, and then the spray rigs and spray fields,” said Artesian Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer David Spacht.
As of late May, ANSWRF was nothing but an empty farm field, surrounded by more fields and wooded areas along Ingram Branch, a tributary of the Broadkill River. A few large sewer pipes can be seen along the edge of the road waiting for installation.
The plan is to install about eight miles of pipe running west on Route 5 from the Harbeson processing plant and north on Route 30 to the new ANSWRF disposal site. Spacht said construction will begin at both sites, and eventually meet in the middle.
Once installed, those pipes will carry about 1.5 million gallons per day of treated stormwater and wastewater used in poultry production to ANSWRF, where it will be disposed of through irrigation.
But first, Artesian needs to build a 90-million-gallon storage lagoon and pump station at the site. That's plenty of extra storage to account for times of year when fields are too wet or frozen for spray application, Spacht said. The lagoon and fields, which are permitted to receive up to 3 million gallons per day of spray-irrigated wastewater, provide enough capacity for future developments to use as well, Spacht and Taylor said.
The ANSWRF site is where Artesian would have disposed of Rehoboth Beach's wastewater if city officials had opted for land application rather than the recently approved ocean-outfall option.
In the future, as new customers seek sewer connections, Artesian will build a full wastewater treatment facility at the site. No date is set for that project, which Spacht estimated would cost $15 million to $20 million.
Farmers will continue to work those fields, planting crops that are capable of soaking up any excess nutrients, Spacht said.
“We will work with farmers to then grow the right kind of cash crops for them, but that will have the right type of nutrient uptake for what’s sprayed on the fields,” he said, adding that surface and well monitoring will keep tabs on nutrient levels of effluent, to avoid any adverse effects to groundwater and the nearby stream.
Runoff from the poultry plant's parking lot will continue to be collected in a retention pond before it is discharged into Beaverdam Creek, said Allen Harim Harbeson Plant Manager Kevin Gordon. Run-off from other areas of the plant, such as loading docks and surrounding the offal building where chicken guts, blood and feathers are processed for disposal, is collected and treated onsite with the poultry processing wastewater, which will go to ANSWRF for disposal.
CLICK MAP TO ENLARGE
This map shows the pipelines that will transmit wastewater from Allen Harim's poultry processing plant in Harbeson to one of two Artesian Resources Corporation facilities. The blue line shows how stormwater from the facility and treated wastewater used during poultry production will travel from the plant on Route 5, west on Route 9 and then north on Route 30 to the yet-to-be-built Artesian Northern Sussex Water Recycling Facility, or ANSWRF. The red line shows a shorter trip for wastewater from the poultry plant's bathrooms, which will go from the plant to Artesian's Beaver Creek wastewater treatment facility behind the Meadows at Beaver Creek development. CHRISTOPHER FOSTER GRAPHIC
Domestic connection work
Work began almost immediately after the new partnership was announced to install pipes leading from Allen Harim's Harbeson plant to Artesian's existing Beaver Creek wastewater treatment plant at the back of the Meadows of Beaver Creek neighborhood on Route 5. Allen Harim will send about 30,000 gallons per day of wastewater from the plant's employee restrooms for treatment and disposal.
The Beaver Creek facility, which is less than a mile from the poultry plant, already serves several nearby subdivisions, including the Meadows at Beaver Creek, Trails at Beaver Creek, Oakwood Village and others. Together they produce about 47,000 gallons per day. The facility is built to handle up to 150,000 gallons per day and could accept up to 300,000 with some additional upgrades, Spacht said.
The facility uses onsite rapid infiltration basins, which are similar to stormwater ponds except they drain much more quickly, for wastewater disposal. Excess sludge is trucked out of the facility periodically as needed.
That project, which should be complete by the end of 2017, requires laying pipes from the Harbeson plant and eastward on Route 9.
Company officials estimate the ANSWRF facility will be fully operational by August 2018, ending the poultry plant’s decades-long practice of disposing of wastewater into Beaverdam Creek.
Big project, big investment
Installing infrastructure to hook the Harbeson plant to Artesian's two facilities will cost an estimated $17 million, said Artesian Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer David Spacht. About $5 million of that will come from Allen Harim as an impact fee.
That $5 million is left over from two low-interest, state-funded loans granted to Allen Harim in 2015. The state Water Infrastructure Advisory Council issued the two loans, totaling about $11.5 million, so Allen Harim could upgrade its onsite wastewater treatment facility and build a wastewater reuse system. That marked the first time the council granted loans to a private company through the state's Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
Allen Harim first planned to build its own water-reuse system to reduce pollutants entering the creek while also conserving water, but that plan was nixed when Allen Harim partnered with Artesian for wastewater disposal. However, Allen Harim has used about $6.5 million from those loans to expand its onsite wastewater treatment capacity from 1.25 million gallons per day to 2 million gallons per day to make way for a third processing shift and increased production.
The facility upped its production from about 1 million chickens weekly in 2016 after consolidating operations from its now-closed Cordova, Md. plant. During that time, the company also upgraded working areas of the plant, including employee restrooms, offices, equipment and cafeteria.
Allen Harim's 300,000-square-foot Harbeson processing plant employs about 1,400 people and works with about 200 Delaware and Maryland growers to process 1.725 million birds weekly for a variety of markets.