Often located on coastlines or near large water bodies, wastewater treatment plants are among the most susceptible institutions to storm surge and are increasingly threatened as sea levels rise. With the threat of these coastal hazards only set to increase, these facilities must add new provisions to protect themselves.
For instance, the wastewater treatment plant in St. Augustine, Florida, has been found to be increasingly endangered.
“The wastewater treatment plant is vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise, according to the city and a report from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Community Resiliency Initiative,” the St. Augustine Record reported. “The report urged the city to start hashing out a plan for the wastewater treatment plant because of the expense and because of the plant’s ‘indispensable role in the city.’”
To address the issue, the city paid over $44,000 for a resilience planning analysis from an engineering firm. Among the potential solutions the firm analyzed was the option to build an old-school defense around the facility.
“Building a sheet-pile wall around the plant with a pump station would cost between $3.7 million and $5.3 million depending on the height and level of hurricane protection,” per the Record. “Costs vary with other materials. The pump station would address rain that falls within the wall and any water that leaks through the walls.”
Other “armoring” techniques investigated by the engineering firm include adding seawalls and revetments and softer options, like improving local beaches and shorelines. While the Community Resiliency Initiative raised some concerns around this armoring, as it could damage the nearby marshland, there’s little reason to believe any alternative solutions are more favorable.
Per the report, the firm also investigated moving the plant entirely, which would cost about $80 million. This year, the city’s budget is $58 million.
A recent op-ed in the Record suggests that public opinion might not be behind relocation nor armoring.
“A $44,000 study has concluded that a Maginot Line-like protective wall could be built around the present wastewater treatment plant for about $5 million, or a new plant built for maybe $80 million — give or take a few million, depending on land acquisition, inflation and other currently unknown factors,” the column reads. “I’m no engineer, but if the $5 million fixer-upper is a stop-gap measure without lasting benefits beyond the next couple decades, it may not be a very smart investment of public funds. As for that $80 million plant … yikes!”
Whatever St. Augustine ultimately decides, wastewater treatment plants around the country are surely struggling with the same questions.
Image credit: "St Augustine, Florida," pulaw © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0