Problem Solving.... Log Yard Run-Off

Creative thinking and a consortium of three private businesses working together find a practical solution that works well for Hermann Bros. log yard water run-off.

In the business of logging you frequently hear, “...the difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.” Solving the point source pollution issues from a log yard water run off certainly seems to fit that category and who better to find a workable solution that some with a logging background?

Hermann Brothers moved their log yard to the 45-acre site within Eclipse Industrial Park (just outside Port Angeles) in 1990, where in addition to the log yard they also have their maintenance shop, their chipper facility and Mike Hermann’s office/lunch and meeting room, which is the home for their fleet of some 40 “revenue” trucks. The log yard takes most of the site and is not paved, and it’s the water run-off from this site that falls under Washington State’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regulation and water quality standards.

Roughly a decade prior the Washington DEQ began surveying industrial sites on water run off: the number of sites, how much water flows from that site, where the water goes, how that storm water may be impacting any other water tributaries, and finally requiring run off water samples (to be sent to the DEQ office) after every major rain event.

The following year Hermann’s received a letter saying, “...the standard we’ve established for Log Yards is 25 NTUs (Numeric Turbidity Unit),” and Hermann paraphrased, “...and according to the results, some of the samples you’ve turned in are not complying. In order to continue to have storm water leaving your property at less than 25 NTU, you’re going to have to clean up the storm water.”

“So Mike (Hermann) called the Dept. of Ecology and asked what we needed to do to comply and their answer was, ‘we don’t know, but you have to try. Since you failed the test results you’re going to have to file an Action Plan telling us what you’re going to do to try to comply,” Herman explained. They also found that no one had a proven and operational solution in existence.

That led to their establishing settling ponds and working to understand the issues with water run off.

The big problem

“We found out that from log yards or any activity that has to do with organic matter, part of what runs off is organic and they’ll never settle,” said Hermann, “they’ll sit in suspension ‘til they rot. They just sit there and float. So the big problem was how do you get the organics out of the storm water. We tried many routes, varying channeling and flocculants and they kind of worked on a smaller scale, but getting it to work up to scale as fast as it would rain,” didn’t work.

A key element is Chitosan (crab shells finely ground to a powder), a “floculant” that lumps the small organic particles together so they can settle out rather than float on the water. “It has to be mixed with the water at a very high rate, so it’s dispersed completely through the water. It has to contact all the organics.”

On the 45-acre site, which is 70% impermeable, “ inch of rain can result in a half million to a million gallons of run off per inch of rain,” said Hermann. “The water running off at this speed, turns out to be somewhere in the 500-600 gallons per minute. We’d tried three or four test systems to see if we could get this to clean up and saw none capable of working on this scale.”

A consortium

The breakthrough came in finding other companies willing to collaborate. “A couple years ago we ran across the guys from OSW (OSW Equipment and Repair, Inc., Woodinville, Washington),” Hermann said. “They had an idea how they could possibly enhance one of their water filtration type units (used to clean up along freeways so you can work and extend the operating season for dirt work). We asked them to bring a water treatment facility to us so we could try it, but they were not a big enough company to build a unit on this scale.” He noted it was clear at that point, “...we needed to take a chance on somebody and they needed to take a chance with us. We decided to go in a working arrangement with them where we’d pay for the plant, they’d do it at their cost. They had a design. We’d get all the infrastructure ready for them: the settling ponds and places: a 770,000 gallon (collection) pond and a 100,000 gallon settling pond, plus a third settling pond. We had the room,” and this fit the DEQ’s requirement for an action plan. “So we paid them to build the plant and facilities.”

Their first test unit, housed in a 16-ft. x 10-ft x 8-ft. high roll-off container arrived, “...and we had an honest chance to see if it would work,” Hermann said. “It took a few months to get it running and fine-tuned, adjusting, discovering what worked. And within two to three months, as a group we were successful. The entire plant jelled together and we were able to get to a “permissible level” at 500 gallons a minute. We could take care of water coming from our facility in the permitted level,” he smiled.

The following season, Hermann Bros. “...decided to build a permanent facility for our own operation,” said Hermann, including automating the plant rather than manning it during weather events. “We asked OSW about automating the controls, and that’s where Clear Water Services became a part of this” joining the consortium in what’s been a very good working relationship.

“Clear Water (Services) did a lot with controls,” to monitor, test, adjust, and operate the plant, Hermann explained then added, “ but making it work with this environment, making organic stuff settle out, took a special understanding.”

All along the discovery and learning curve, each part contributed to the final success. “We’re in this together. We put (together) a product that does solve the problem and we’re able to do it at a dollar rate that will be affordable for anyone that has a log yard.” Clear Water Services, Hermann noted, “is a larger scope of company. As technology improves they’ll be able to continue with the ongoing updates.” Today when in operation water passes the sensors at a rate of 500 gallons per minute. “It’s running that accurately and within permitted limits.”

A workable solution

The project manager for Clear Water Services, Peter Pearson, explained that each location with water run-off has its own emissions issues depending on their environment, the setting, materials and other materials particular to that location. “Basically they (Washington DEQ) have standards for different industries that must be met,” Pearson said. “For log yards there are different requirements than say for recycling plants.”
For log yards, this Hermann Brothers facility demonstrates that a solution is not only possible but running and in compliance. A similar facility in another location would need additional fine tuning to accommodate the varying conditions of that site, certainly. But the broad issue of controlling water run-off has a proven solution.

“Clean air and clean water are here to stay,” Hermann said. “We may as well try to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. That’s the part I’m so proud of the guys we’ve worked with. We’ve all worked together and we’re satisfied, for ourselves because our log yard complies. We can provide products to our customers and we’ll not be called on the block because of storm water run-off. These folks invested their time, efforts, and brain power to make this work. It was a business decision, and they’ll be able to sell this technology to other customers. It all amounts to how we all stay in business and about the environment.”

“It’s solving a problem at a reasonable cost,” Hermann said. “Everyone’s installation is a little different, but this is a reasonable, sensible solution to the storm water problem for log yards or people who handle organics.”

“The Clear Water Services folks are going to take this product over and run with it,” said Hermann. “If someone wants to make a contact on this process they should contact them at Clear Water Services through their Lynwood, Washington office at (425) 508-8731.

by Mike Crouse