PA Environmental Protection Secretary Richard Negrin tours once-troubled Berks wastewater system

Nearly five years since millions of gallons of untreated sewage spilled into the Schuylkill River, Pennsylvania American Water has invested $20 million in this former Exeter Township facility, benefiting the community and environment.

Pennsylvania American Water this week hosted Richard Negrin, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for a tour of its Exeter Wastewater Treatment Plant in Exeter Township. Sec. Negrin was welcomed on Thursday, Aug. 17, by the company’s president and members of its operations, engineering, and water quality teams.

Nearly five years ago, in October 2018, Exeter Township’s wastewater system accidentally discharged four million gallons of untreated sewage into the Schuylkill River, threatening drinking water in Montgomery and Chester counties. Combined with increasing difficulty in keeping up with federal and state regulations, the township made the decision to sell the wastewater system to Pennsylvania American Water the following year. DEP ultimately placed the system under consent order, requiring a 3-year study on rain overflows and major upgrades to the treatment and collection system.

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“As we approach the five-year anniversary of that unfortunate event, we are proud to highlight the work that has been done here in Exeter,” said Justin Ladner, president of Pennsylvania American Water. “These upgrades represent Pennsylvania American Water’s comprehensive investment and commitment to keeping pace with industry best practices, regulatory compliance, and environmental stewardship. But today is also a celebration of our partnership with leaders like Secretary Negrin and his staff at DEP. Together, we are accomplishing meaningful change.”

Since 2019, Pennsylvania American Water has invested more than $20 million to improve Exeter’s wastewater infrastructure, improving environmental compliance, reliability and expanding the capacity of the system to accommodate heavy rains and growth of the community. With upgrades and new technologies now in place, operations have drastically improved, resulting in significant benefits to the Exeter area, down-river communities, and the environment. An additional $46 million is expected to be invested over the next 5 years for $66 million in total infrastructure enhancements.

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Secretary Negrin applauded the Pennsylvania American Water team for their commitment to keeping drinking water safe and ensuring proper treatment of wastewater, recognizing the company’s effort turn the Exeter wastewater treatment plant from a facility with a history of compliance issues to a state-of-the-art facility.

“I think the first thing I learned is that these folks love their job. It’s pretty cool to watch people who are committed and downright nerdy about the quality of water,” Negrin stated. “Meeting the folks behind the scenes and learning what they do on a daily basis is really, really what makes this tour worth doing. Obviously, the leadership of Justin and his great team here is making a huge difference.”

“They made significant investments and demonstrate the partnership we want in terms of compliance from a regulatory perspective,” continued Negrin. “If you look at the investments they’re making, they are incredibly intentional and strategic and designed to make sure that the Schuylkill River, that’s right here, is as clean as possible. And it’s an extraordinary effort.”

Investments highlighted on the tour included:

Influent Pump Station – It was the influent pumps that failed in 2018, causing four million gallons of untreated sewage to discharge into the Schuylkill River. These pumps and pump station components and controls have now been replaced.

Return Activated Sludge Pump Station – Identified as a need before acquiring the system in 2019, Pennsylvania American Water is replacing aging infrastructure and electrical components at this pump station to reduce employee health and safety issues.

Chlorine Conversion – To address safety concerns for employees and the nearby community, the company replaced its gas chlorine system with a safer form of liquid sodium hypochlorite disinfection.

Exeter Collection System Evaluation – The entire system has been surveyed, evaluating manholes, inspecting sewer mains, and identifying deficiencies throughout the collection system. Additionally, Pennsylvania American Water has installed more flow meters in areas of concern. Flow monitors allow the team to monitor and react quickly if system improvements are needed.

For over 21 years, Pennsylvania American Water has been providing high quality, reliable water service to Lower Alsace and the surrounding communities. In the fall of 2019, the company began providing wastewater service to the Exeter area. In total, Pennsylvania American Water serves more than 63,000 people in Berks County.

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