MECHANICVILLE — And you thought scrubbing the bathroom toilet was dirty business.
Crews working on an expansion of the Saratoga County sewage treatment plant have been power-washing basins, pipes and equipment that have been used to filter waste water for the last three decades.
The work was made possible last month, when new filtration equipment installed over the last two years was brought online and sewage was diverted from the older portion of the facility to the new infrastructure.
"It was all fairly clean, really," said James DiPasquale, the sewer district's executive director, during a tour of the facility on Tuesday. "It was when you got to the front end that it got real objectionable."
The scent of the decontamination effort lingers around the Mechanicville plant, but the result of the work, officials hope, will be a treatment system that will roughly double the amount of sewage that can be filtered at the facility.
Work to expand the treatment plant, located on routes 4 and 32 just west of the Hudson River, began in August 2008. New pumps, ultraviolet treatment machines, aerators and settling tanks have all been added over the course of the two-year project.
Much of the old system was taken offline on June 15, after the new equipment was finished, so it could be cleaned and repairs could be made.
"Some of the repairs that are being done would have been almost impossible to do without deactivating, which would have been very difficult," DiPasquale said. "Now is the time to do it."
After the final touches, expected in November, the plant will be capable of treating a little more than 43 million gallons of sewage every day.
At mid-afternoon on Tuesday, a computer tracked the flow at 16 million gallons.
But peak sewage inflow is now around 20 million gallons a day, and GlobalFoundries, the computer chipmaker, is expected to produce up to 4 million gallons of waste water a day when the connection to the plant is complete in a few weeks.
Residential developments are also expected to add to the load over the coming years.
"When you add up the numbers, you see we're getting pretty close (to the limit)," DiPasquale said.
The expansion is the sewer plant's third since it opened in 1975 as a way of centralizing waste water treatment in the county.
When it opened in 1977, the plant was able to handle up to 13 million gallons a day. In 1999, it was expanded to handle 21 million gallons a day.
Sewer officials hope the latest expansion will cover them for at least another decade. A smaller plant in northern Saratoga County is in the conceptual phase now to accommodate growth beyond that.
The most recent expansion work cost around $50 million, and rates for the plant's 66,000 users went up $30 a year to cover the debt service. Rates for the coming year won't be set until this fall, and it's still unclear how they will change because of the ongoing debt service costs, DiPasquale said.
Even as this project nears completion, though, work within the sewer district will continue.
Requests for engineering and design work for upgrades to a line along Route 4 near the plant and upgrades to the system around Saratoga Lake are going out now. Officials say the updates are needed to replace aging infrastructure, meet growing demand and protect nearby watersheds.
Preliminary estimates suggest it could cost around $10 million to finish that work, which could begin as early as 2012.
For DiPasquale, the repairs and expansion seem to be just another day at the office.
"I've been here since 1996, and I think we've either been planning a project or doing a project pretty much every year," he said.