Moving Forward

Aug. 10, 2012
Innovation is key at an Oregon wastewater treatment facility

About the author: Kristin Muckerheide is assistant editor for Water & Wastes Digest. Muckerheide can be reached at [email protected] or 847.954.7922.

The staff at the Rock Creek Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility seem well aware that innovation is the key to success, and they do not have plans to slow down anytime soon. 

The facility, one of four treatment plants run by Clean Water Services (CWS) of Hillsboro, Ore., began service in 1977. CWS formed in 1970 as a result of a 1969 Washington County building moratorium, according to Nathan Cullen, engineering division manager for CWS. The biggest bond issue in Oregon history provided the initial funds to create CWS. The organization went after $35 million in voter-approved general obligation bonds in 1970 to fund the new regional wastewater authority. 

CWS was able to tap into Clean Water Act grants for the initial construction of its first plants: Rock Creek and Durham. “We were 75% to 80% federally funded through grants initially. But all subsequent expansions have been self-funded through rates and system development charges,” Cullen said.

Rock Creek is a tertiary treatment plant that degrits primary sludge without grit basins. “And then we have two parallel treatment trains, the east side and west side of the facility, each of which go all the way to disinfection,” said Peter Schauer, process engineer for CWS. “They’re conventional activated sludge three-stage processes. The west side is a conventional activated sludge process followed by flocculation and tertiary clarifiers. But the east side has the Claricones for tertiary treatment, which treat about a third of the plant flow, and [another] third of the plant flow also on the east side is treated by direct filtration.”

Changes & Upgrades

Several projects are in the works at Rock Creek, with plans for even more to come. On May 1, the facility started converting to biological phosphorous removal, which Cullen said is proving to be a large undertaking. 

According to Schauer, the upgrade will pay off—not only with the reduction in chemicals, but by switching to biological phosphorous removal. He said the plant now is able to create a centrate stream containing a higher amount of soluble phosphorous, so it can recover it in the struvite facility, providing an additional revenue stream. Rock Creek’s maintenance and operations building is getting a boost as well with the installation of a solar panel facility that will use solar photovoltaic cells.

Rock Creek also is in the process of constructing a ballasted flocculation and sedimentation system on the west side of the facility to replace its flocculation and sedimentation basins and tertiary clarifiers, Schauer said.

Work also is being done on some pilot projects for onsite fermentation using waste sugar products. Rock Creek is looking into a permanent fermentation system in the future. 

The plant’s staff is currently designing a future gravity fermenter that will be part of the main solids handling process, and they are also in preliminary design for heat treat systems to condition the sludge before it goes into the anaerobic digesters, Cullen said. In addition, Rock Creek is expanding its headworks capacity and adding another bar screen at the headworks that will take the capacity from 160 to 200 million gal per day.


According to Cullen, the continuous upgrades are a big help when dealing with the area’s strict nutrient limits, including some of the most stringent phosphorous limits in the country. “Our receiving stream, the Tualatin River, is prone to algae blooms if we don’t control the phosphorous,” he said. 

Rock Creek has a median total phosphorous limit of 0.1 mg/L. Its summertime nutrient removal also includes ammonia.

During Oregon’s rainy, wet winters, the focus switches to managing the correspondingly high peak flows. At Rock Creek, it is a 6-to-1 peaking factor—peak hour to annual average flow.

Until now, the plant has managed the stringent phosphorous limits through chemical treatment, so the biological removal is a big transition. 

Schauer said it has been going well so far; the plant has been able to biologically remove the majority of the soluble ortho-phosphorous that is in the secondary system this year. 

On the Horizon

According to Cullen, there is much more still to come. “One of the big projects is to expand our cogeneration facility,” he said. The facility currently has 1 MW of cogeneration capacity. In the future, Cullen said CWS would likely upgrade and expand that facility to generate more power. 

“There’s a lot going on,” he said. “We’re pretty much in a continual expansion at our facilities.”

Rock Creek’s innovative ways are nothing new. “There’s a long history of innovation at the district,” Cullen said. 

It must be something in the water. 

Download: Here

About the Author

Kristin Muckerheide

Sponsored Recommendations

Get Utility Project Solutions

June 13, 2024
Lightweight, durable fiberglass conduit provides engineering benefits, performance and drives savings for successful utility project outcomes.

Meeting the Demands of Wastewater Treatment Plants

May 24, 2024
KAESER understands the important requirements wastewater treatment plant designers and operators consider when evaluating and selecting blowers and compressed air equipment. In...

Modernize OT Cybersecurity to Mitigate Risk

April 25, 2024
Rockwell Automation supports industry-leading Consumer Packaged Goods company, Church & Dwight, along their industrial cybersecurity journey.

2024 Manufacturing Trends Unpacking AI, Workforce, and Cybersecurity

April 25, 2024
The world of manufacturing is changing, and Generative AI is one of the many change agents. The 2024 State of Smart Manufacturing Report takes a deep dive into how Generative ...