Treatment plant toured by Dawsonites, undergoes outfall improvements
Dog waste from the ice field tour adds to residential mix

Chlorine tablets, which help decrease fecal coliforms, are added to the water treatment process in this holding tank. “In the past we had problems with fecal coliforms,” water and wastewater operator Tim Gladden said, explaining the problem has since subsided.—HJB

By HOLLIE JOY BROWN
Although it sits quietly near the Skagway Police Station, the Wastewater Treatment Plant has received some attention this summer, including that of the Skagway News.
Some came earlier this month when two Dawson City Council members toured the facility to get ideas about building a treatment facility for their city.
Dawson Councilmember Debbie Nagano said she didn’t understand the concept of the facility so she went on a tour of the plant and asked locals what they thought of the facility.
The treatment plant is also in the middle of a sewer outfall project, said Tim Gladden, water and wastewater operator. The project includes the modification of the diffuser, which will allow for better dispersal and dilution of effluent from the treatment plant.
In the past there have been problems with copper concentration, Gladden said. There was not enough dilution to keep copper concentrations down, but with the modification of the diffuser, concentrations will meet regulated levels, he said.
After looking at three bids last month, the city council awarded the $28,873 contract to Alaska Divers Underwater Sewage Inc.
Out of curiosity, The Skagway News thought it would be interesting to observe the facility’s operation and see how it handles the city’s water and sewer usage during the tourist season.
While expecting to learn about the treatment process, a small lesson in anatomy was not expected.
The first reaction upon entering and walking further towards the mechanics of the plant is to plug one’s nose. The odor, which is not as bad as a honey bucket but more sour than the smell of a hiker fresh of the Chilkoot, cannot be ignored.
“It gets a lot worse than this,” Gladden said. “This is a small package plant.”
Seasonal employees won’t go near the plant, but those who have worked there a while have become desensitized, he said.
Built in 1978, the facility went through a retro-fit in 1990, which made it into a primary treatment plant instead of a secondary, Gladder said.
Water flow at the center is metered at 300,000 gallons per day. The water flow does not change radically during the tourist season as most would think, he said. During the winter months with fewer people around, people keep their water running to prevent pipes freezing, he said. An increase in rainfall during the off-season also helps balance it out, he said.
The treatment process includes screening, settling, where sand, grit and sometimes broken egg shells are collected, and decanting, where bacteria eats and reduces the bulk of the sludge, he said.
The first step is water screening, Gladden said. The water is put through a large screen, which catches larger materials in the removal process, he said. The screens are cleaned twice per day during the summer and once per day the rest of the year, he said.
“If we don’t, we have a big mess,” he said.
The mass collected from the screen fills a dump truck (8 cubic yards) and is taken to the incinerator once a week. During the off-season, the truck can be taken every three weeks, he said.
By cautiously looking closely at the screen and the mass that collects on it, the one thing that is the most visible is corn.
Corn is one of the most prevalent items left in the screen, he said.
“I think that that’s just the way that stuff digests in the human body,” he said, “ but I think that’s true for any wastewater plant.”
Following the screening process, the screened water sits still while its contents such as sand and grit are settled to the bottom, where they too are removed, he said. The removed contents go into the dump truck also, he said.
Decanting is one of the final processes. Bacteria eats the bulk of the remaining sludge that is created throughout the process, he said.
While close to 600,000 cruise visitors are expected this season, the facility will not see the brunt of their usage. Residential and commercial sewage is the only stuff that goes through the center, Gladden said, other than Alaska ice field expeditions waste.
“They scoop all that up from the dogs and bring it down,” he said, explaining that everything brought on the expedition must come back with them. “It’s horrible stuff.”
The waste is put in open-top, 55-gallon drums, totaling about 2,500 gallons, and brought to the treatment center every three weeks, he said.
“They have over 200 dogs up there this year too,” he said.
Ships have onboard treatment facilities and no sewer lines go to the docks so cruise waste does not go through the facility. Recently though, Princess tour buses have started to dump at the facility, he said.
When the water leaves the center, it goes to the ferry docks on the west side of the last two dolphins approximately 410 feet off shore with a depth of minus 60 feet, he said.
“That’s the wonderful world of wastewater,” he said.
After leaving the facility and trying to remember what was learned, corn was the only thing that came to one’s mind.