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New plant changing how Whitefish wastewater is processed

Whitefish has one of four active plants of this type in the U.S. as of January 2023.
Whitefish Wastewater Treatment Plant
Whitefish Wastewater Treatment Plant
Whitefish Wastewater Treatment Plant
Roxanna Chomas
Posted at 4:30 PM, Mar 22, 2023

WHITEFISH - Some communities — such as Whitefish — are having to adjust their infrastructure and update their public works systems as Montana continues to grow.

“It's just amazing how these bugs can operate and how they just take care of everything that we need. Once you see the beginning of the plant, and you see the end result is so it's just like opening the tap and your kitchen. It's that clear,” said Whitefish Wastewater Plant Chief Operator Roxanna Chomas.

Whitefish has a new Wastewater Treatment Plant that uses a unique technology to process waste in a quick, cost-effective manner.

“You can think of these granules as little treatment plants. Each one has a specific duty, and it's quite fascinating,” said Chomas.

Whitefish Wastewater Treatment Plant
Whitefish has a new Wastewater Treatment Plant that uses a unique technology to process waste in a quick, cost-effective manner.

The need for the new plant was spurred by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and more stringent nutrient standards for wastewater treatment and the city's continued growth.

“When we designed this plant, we looked at a 20-year horizon. And so obviously, we've seen incredible growth in Whitefish in the last couple of years — especially since the pandemic. And so this plant is designed to cover not only that growth but also the future growth of Whitefish into the next 20 years,” said Whitefish Director of Public Works Craig Workman.

Compared to a typical lagoon-style treatment plant, the AquaNereda treatment plant takes up a quarter of the space necessary to properly treat wastewater. Whitefish has one of four active plants of this type in the U.S. as of January 2023.

Roxanna Chomas
Whitefish Wastewater Plant Chief Operator Roxanna Chomas explaining how the new treatment system operates.

“In a nutshell, it takes in raw sewage, it draws off that clear water, and it's a very quick process. It's very quick, very instantaneous. And it's all governed by instrumentation,” said Chomas.

The system — which was originally designed in Europe — s almost entirely run by electronics, creating little legwork for the plant operators.

“I feel like I’m going to heaven,” said Chomas.

The system uses UV light to kill the bacteria rather than chlorine saving costs and making it a cleaner sanitation, and no one appreciates these little changes like the people who work at the plant.

“You definitely have to have a passion for this. You have to have passion for the environment, and all the good stuff that comes with that. You know when we go down in the outfall, there's paddleboarders, there's kayakers in that river," Chomas noted. "And just to know that we contribute to that flow, and it's the cleanest it will ever be for them. You have a lot of recreational waterways here in Montana and right here in Whitefish and Flathead Valley. So it's very important to us and our mission here."

Whitefish Wastewater Treatment Plant
Whitefish has one of four active AquaNereda treatment plants in the United States. The system is almost entirely run by electronics, creating little legwork for the plant operators.

When you think of wastewater, it suggests a peculiar smell and this system eliminates that.

“If you haven't noticed, try to take notice that it doesn't smell at all there's no odor from the lagoons,” said Chomas.

The new wastewater treatment plant may seem like no big deal, but every time you use the bathroom, these little granules will be hard at work.

“And I can guarantee when you flush your toilet tonight you'll be thinking of us because these bugs do everything that the environment does but only faster,” said Chomas.