RANDOLPH — After years of giving awards to Illinois' best wastewater treatment plants, Josh Stevens was gratified to be on the receiving end this year.
"Winning this award from the (Illinois Association of Water Pollution Control Operators) is essentially a group of your peers saying your plant is the one, so that's pretty neat and special," said Stevens. "It does mean a lot."
Stevens and his colleagues at the Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District were honored with IAWPCO's Group One Plant of the Year award, recognizing the largest plants in the state, for the southeast wastewater treatment plant at 16041 E. 700 North, near Randolph.
The plant beat out three others nominated by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in several factors, said Wade Lagle, who served on IAWPCO's selection committee and is also operations supervisor for the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District.
"We look at a lot of different things: overall aesthetics of facility, cleanliness ... basically just how the plant's operating, if it's meeting its dispatch permit regulated by the state," said Lagle. "This plant has perfect compliance (with state wastewater standards) since it opened in 2005. That was a huge factor."
Lagle noted the plant is unusual in that 50 percent of its effluent, or output, goes through a wetland area. He said that protects receiving streams from flooding and algae, and it removes more nitrogen and phosphorous.
"The fact the areas are open to the public is also a credit. There are hiking trails and bird-watching stations throughout the wetland," said Lagle. "The whole facility is immaculate. They do a really good job."
Randy Stein, BNWRD's executive director, noted the facility is managed with automated processes that can be controlled remotely with a smartphone. The 15-acre plant sits on a 280-acre site.
"We operate year-round, and a lot of plants are seasonal. We have extremely large secondary clarifiers, which helps," he said of the plant's unique features. "We try hard to keep the odors from escaping from the secondary process, the sludge process."
The McLean County facility bested plants in suburban Lake County, Springfield and Granite City, near St. Louis. It competed in a category for plants with at least 7.5 million gallons of material treated per day.
Stevens, past president of IAWPCO and chief operator at BNWRD's main plant in west Bloomington, said he was honored to accept the award at February's Illinois Wastewater Professionals Conference in Springfield.
"We got the nod and a 2 ½-foot trophy, a traveling trophy. It's like the Stanley Cup of wastewater," Stein said with a laugh. "We're pretty proud of the fact that since it first opened up we've had 100 percent compliance with water quality standards there."