Sanford Science Series Part 6: Award-winning water treatment plant

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LEAD, S.D. (KOTA TV) - The Sanford Underground Research Facility draws in some of the world's leading scientists to the Black Hills, but it's the brilliant innovative minds above ground that allows the place to continue to operate.

Rinse, wash and repeat. No water leaves this plant that has not been processed.

Mine water is notorious for containing hazardous minerals and chemicals. It's the hardest of the hard, hard water.

"We actually try to produce water that is really pleasant to the eye and also water that is very clear and meets all state and federal regulations," said Waste Water Treatment Plant Foreman Ken Noren.

To do that, employees at the Waste Water Treatment Plant have developed a state-of-the-art facility with some cutting edge technology.

After the water is pumped from 6200 ft down, it's first stop is a series of multimedia filters comprised of four different layers. After about 22 minutes, the water heads to the sludge tank.

"All the dirty water comes into this tank. We add a very light coagulant and a very light amount of a flocculant we mix it up. We let it settle out. All that brown stuff on the bottom is iron. This part of the plant, this tank was designed by the crew that works here," Noren said.

The rotating biological contactors are another stop the crew has had to innovate. Inside the cylinders is a bacteria that literally eats ammonia and some of the heavy metal, then it's off to more filters like the polishing sand filters.

"This is basically the same media in this filters as you would see in the other filters, but this is just the very end of the plant," said Noren.

The end of the plant, but not the end of the journey. That's reserved for a small waterfall outside of Lead where the newly cleaned water mixes with natural water. This spot is pretty popular with bikers in the summer because the water is warm.

"Downstream there's a lot of people who drink the water and it will already go all the way down to the Gulf Coast. Thousands of people drink the water, cattle drink the water," Noren said.

They're pumping out more than 930 gallons of it every minute, 24 hours a day.

For the 11th consecutive year, the Waste Water Treatment Plant has been recognized by the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources with the Operation and Maintenance Award. It recognizes the outstanding operation of the wastewater system and environmental compliance with its state surface water discharge permit last year.