On some days, several trucks visit the Litehouse Foods Inc. plant in Lowell to ferry tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater stored in front of the plant to a wastewater treatment facility in Muskegon County more than 40 miles away.

Litehouse, the second largest employer in the city of Lowell with more than 400 employees, has onsite storage capacity of about 80,000 gallons of the wastewater in the form of four portable rectangular tanks at the front of the plant -- and the problem appear it will only become more acute as it ramps up production that may generate a wastewater stream of up to 30 million gallons a year.

To get a sense of scale, it takes a pool the size of a football field and more than 2 feet deep to hold just 1 million gallons of water. Now multiply that 25 times to get a sense of the scale involved in a year's time.

So what happened? In a nutshell, Litehouse is generating millions of gallons more wastewater from its internal operations now than it did a decade ago when it employed less than half of its current staff.

At one time, Litehouse was able to manage and pretreat its wastewater with a combination of internal process and on-site lagoons that allowed the company to release its wastewater through the Lowell sanitary sewer system to the wastewater treatment plant at 300 Bowes St. SE, owned by the city and Lowell Township. The Lowell wastewater treatment plant managed by SUEZ has a capacity of handling about 1.5 million gallons of water a day.

According to technical reports, Litehouse installed wastewater pretreatment equipment and an anaerobic digester on its property in 2000 to handle wastewater onsite, but the systems apparently are not used now to process both the quantity and organic strength of its wastewater. 

With the support and input from Litehouse, the former management company of AWES developed a pretreatment plant on the premises of the Lowell Power & Light property at 625 Chatham St., and laid a 1/4-mile direct pipeline between the Litehouse factory and a wastewater pretreatment plant.  AWES officials are putting together a proposal for Litehouse to restart the pretreatment plant on Chatham Street sometime in summer so handle the company's wastewater.