Corvallis Revolutionizes Safe Drinking Water: Wastewater Treatment Plant Pioneers Equipment by Local Company, ZAPS Technology

If we could monitor our water 24 hours a day, if we could know what level of contaminates were present at any given moment, and if accessing that information could be as simple as an app on a smartphone, shouldn’t we be doing it? Gary Klinkhammer, founder of ZAPS Technologies in Corvallis, certainly thinks so.

“So much money is devoted to technology that simply makes our lives easier,” says Klinkhammer. “I think using some of that money to create technologies that make our world a safer and better place to live as well as saving money is important.”

That’s one of the basic reasons he founded ZAPS Technologies—to provide a business that could do just that. The team at ZAPS has created a mechanism for monitoring water quality 24 hours a day. Klinkhammer explains, “Some water testing is done daily, some weekly, and some when it is likely the sample will be a good one depending on what you are looking for. With our LiquID™ station’s in situ monitoring, the samples become more objective.”

How important is objective sampling, you ask? “Once we saw evidence of an RV dump in the water at around 4 a.m.,” remembers Klinkhammer. Had that water been sampled while so heavily contaminated, every piece of sampling equipment essentially would have worked overtime and large amounts of disinfectant would have been required to sanitize the city’s water.

The ZAPS Crew. Back Row L to R: Terry Tiessen, Chris Russo, Glenn Peltier, Don Jackson; Front Row L to R: Mark Burgenmeyer, Josh Hansen, Troy Brimacomb, John Johnson.

“Our machine doesn’t make better water, it lets us know when the water is at its best quality so it can then be taken and processed,” adds Klinkhammer, “Water testing can be very hard on equipment—LiquID™ can help avoid unnecessary chemical use and mechanical wear and tear, which saves money.”

The LiquID™ Station is an optical monitoring instrument that allows for continuous observation of water quality and then makes the information available online. It works by pumping water into the machine, then passing it through a single, innovative optical flow cell utilizing fluorescence, UV-Vis absorption, and “hybrid-hyperspectral” detection. The instrument takes readings about every two minutes and produces no waste other than that which may have already been in the water sample.

In the US, nitrates, E. coli, and algae in the water are particularly worrisome. In our own Willamette Valley, where agricultural fields bump up against the banks of the Willamette River, levels of chemical fertilizers and animal waste in our water are often higher than the recommended standards. But due to the large quantity of ocean-fresh precipitation and snowmelt that recharge our rivers, Klinkhammer says we are blessed.

“Water quality here in Corvallis is worst in the spring and fall, mostly due to agricultural processes mobilized by rainfall, but our precipitation is extremely clean and helps dilute all that. Nature has blessed us, but we overlay that extremely clean water with our human fingerprint.”

A view of Corvallis' wastewater treatment plant.

To use but one example, right now, levels of nitrate and E. coli in Oak Creek are high, but normal for modern use. Laughing, Klinkhammer quips, “Just don’t swim in it right now, it’s cold!”

With such a view, it’s no wonder Klinkhammer focused on technology that could help us monitor our water quality. He emphasizes the importance of sharing such information, and reminds us that we all live “downstream.”

ZAPS is a growing business, with LiquID™ Stations abroad in Australia and New Zealand. In the US, there are instruments in the Midwest, the Southeast, and on the West Coast. ZAPS hopes that soon the LiquID™ Stations will be utilized even on cargo ships and cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean.

Corvallis uses three of these stations at its wastewater treatment plant, where Dan Hanthorn, the City’s Wastewater Operations Supervisor, was instrumental in getting ZAPS equipment up and running a year and a half ago. It’s a truly cooperative venture here—ZAPS needs a facility to develop their analysis algorithms, and Corvallis’ wastewater treatment plant can provide analyses and valuable feedback. Hanthorn is understandably excited about the capabilities and implications of the LiquID™ Stations.

“You look at the numbers with these old ways of doing tests, and you have no appreciation for the variability, and the impact of things like OSU football games,” he said. “It will change everything, and it has already started.”

OSU Footbal and Urine: Wastewater Tells the Story

Levels of urea spike in Corvallis’ wastewater on OSU football game days during tailgating, the ten minutes prior to the start of the game, and halftime.

“[The above graph] really speaks to the power of the instrumentation,” said Dan Hanthorn, Wastewater Operations Supervisor for the City of Corvallis. “You used to have to collect samples and wait anywhere from one full day to five full days to get an answer, and now you know instantly in real time.”

Corvallis’ Wastewater Treatment Plant May Produce Valuable Fertilizers

Corvallis’ own wastewater treatment plant, along with local partners, is negotiating funds to recover minerals from our city’s wastewater stream for the production of agricultural fertilizers. Technologies have been successfully piloted at the plant to produce two different types of fertilizer, including slow-release struvite, sales of which would likely generate revenue.

The production of these fertilizers will provide tremendous benefit to Corvallis’ wastewater treatment plant in terms of meeting future regulatory requirements for removing wastewater constituents, along with the recycling of these valuable minerals. The final goal of the plant is to recover, recycle, and reuse the components of our local wastewater streams to the extent that only clean water remains at the end of the process.

“I feel very fortunate to be here in Corvallis, because they’re very encouraging in reaching out and adopting new technologies when it’s appropriate,” emphasized Dan Hanthorn, Corvallis’ Wastewater Operations Supervisor. “There’s a lot of empowerment that just wouldn’t happen in other communities and with other utility systems.”

The plant will be optimizing treatment processes for recovery rather than removal of wastewater components, and currently-installed ZAPS Technologies LiquID™ Stations will allow the plant to determine the best approach much more quickly and efficiently than ever before.

by Lisa Tedder