The Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility has been busy adding new infrastructure to their system to help alleviate problems that have plagued the system in recent years. One of the largest improvements is a new pump station on Phillips Taylor Road, which runs parallel to I-530 near the Highway 65 exit.

Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility General Manager Ken Johnson recently gave an update on that project and more.

“The largest capital project we have going on has been going on for almost a year. It is on Phillips Taylor Road,” Johnson said. “We are constructing a new pump station. It is a $3.2 million facility. We anticipate completion in the latter part of September.”

“This pump station has been discussed for around five years,” Johnson added. “The reason it is being put into place is because during the heavy wet weather season, it puts pressure on the lines going into our wastewater treatment plant. So, to deal with that temporary restriction, it was suggested by engineers that we needed to put in a new pump station to facilitate the wastewater in the system. Once it is completed, it should ease up on some of the problems we have been experiencing, especially during the wet seasons and primarily during the winter months. We will be able to easily transport the water through the system out to our wastewater treatment plant.”

There will also be upgrades made to the pump station along Highway 65 as well to help accommodate the development for the Saracen Casino Resort, Johnson said.

“One other benefit to that station, and we will also be enlarging our station along Highway 65, is the casino that is coming,” he said. “McClellan Engineers is the engineers on the project as it relates to sewer development. They will also be enhancing our Highway 65 station. It is the station that is right to the left as you turn into Grider Field Road. They are increasing the pumps in the station and making some other significant changes to accommodate the casino development in the area.

“The 65 station, once it is upgraded, will be able to accommodate the casino development. Also, any other development that may come if Pine Bluff decides to expand or annex down Highway 65. It will be able to accommodate that as well. When we designed the Phillips Road pump we didn’t consider a casino development, but it is a perk with that station and the Highway 65 station being upgraded. The flows coming in from the casino with the aid of the Phillips Road pump station will be a benefit to that development as well.”

Johnson said that a bond issue is helping to pay for the upgrades and new pump station.

“Back in 2016, we issued bonds for this,” he said. “There was a $5 million bond issuance that is being used. We incurred that service to go ahead and take care of the capital costs of these projects, the pump station in particular.”

Many wastewater utilities across Arkansas faced issues during the Arkansas River flooding several weeks ago. The state health department noted that river waters were contaminated due to debris, wastewater, and other items being deposited into the Arkansas River due to flooding. However, the Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility was not affected despite near-record level flooding in our area, Johnson said.

“Our wastewater utilities are designed for the 100-year flood stage,” he said.

“What that means is in the event that we have a flood situation like we had a couple of weeks ago, water is designed to enter the last stages. We call them polishing pond with effluents to relieve pressure and not cause any damage to our levees. The good thing about having lagoons is that we were able to hold water inside of those lagoons until we could discharge. During our construction in 2005, we also put in pumps that during high water conditions we could go ahead and discharge the water out. Unfortunately, during this flood at the high level that it was, the controls at our pump station were also under water, so we were able to hold the water. Yes, the ripple water did enter the effluent stages. That means the water is treated and ready for release into the Arkansas River. If the floodwater didn’t reach it, we would have been discharging those waters anyways.”

Johnson continued: “There was no release of raw sewage from the primary cells. We did not bypass along the Arkansas River. Some other cities north of us did bypass. If we would have had to, we were set up to contact the state so we could bypass, but again that did not occur. The good thing is Pine Bluff is blessed to have a lagoon system where we can hold water and retain water for a certain amount of time. We can retain anywhere between 60-90 days if we need to, especially during the summer months.”

While there was no raw sewage released from the Pine Bluff wastewater holds, there is still a lot of cleanup work going on at the facilities, Johnson said.

“We are still removing mud, sticks, and all of the floatable stuff that came down the Arkansas River,” he said. “We have done a massive cleanup out there to remove all of that debris that flowed in when the Arkansas River flooded out there.”

There are additional upgrades taking place across Pine Bluff as well, specifically cured-in-place-lines, which will repair older lines throughout the city without having to excavate existing lines, Johnson said.

“We are investing $400,000 in what is called cured-in-place piping,” he said.

“Basically we place synthetic lines into the sewer lines. Our system dates back to 1888, and over time, the sewer lines just don’t last. You get holes inside of the lines, so instead of going and digging up the streets, we have a process called Cured in Place pipe which is a trenchless technology that allows us to insert a liner through a manhole inside of the lines. Once the liner is installed with a resin that is heated up, then it forms to the contours of the pipe. That liner will be in place for the next 60 years. We don’t have to excavate the streets. It is a very clean job. It will enable them to prevent overflowing manholes and breaks in old sewer lines which would otherwise release raw sewage to the environment.”