In the world of wastewater these days, there are many challenges that will occur. Some you may have already seen and some may appear in the near future. One of these many challenges is how to get your plant activated if it is killed off by known or unknown environmental issues. The reasons can vary from a crystal meth hit to someone dumping diesel in your line or some other caustic in your line.

Sometimes these challenges are self-inflicted, by allowing septic or grease haulers to discharge to your system. Be aware that you may have illegal dumping from septic haulers, grease haulers, and other chemicals through your RV dump stations or other access points to your wastewater system. And of course, there is the issue of chemicals that your collection people may be using to clean lines or kill roots.

Some of the more common causes of plant kill off are industrial users. Micro-breweries, alcohol distillers, and cannabis processors and growers are just a few of many industrial facilities that can kill your plant. Then there are the significant industrial users (SIUs) like meat packing plants and food processors that contribute high volumes and high BOD/COD loading to your plant.


The other scenario could be that you have just finished building that brand new wastewater plant or addition. After spending millions of dollars to complete the new system, how do you get it started and working at optimal parameters as quickly as possible?

There are several options available to most wastewater system, no matter what design you have. You can startup or reactivate activated sludge plants, BNR, anaerobic digesters, and lagoons, using some or all the methods described below.

There are many accepted methods for a startup or restart. These include just letting the plant biology develop naturally. If this is the method you decide to use, the industry estimates are that the plant will be at maximum efficiency somewhere between 90 to 180 days. If you have a lot of time, this method will work. If you need to meet discharge limits quickly, this may not be the best method for you to use.


Another method is to inoculate the system with activated sludge from a neighboring community. This method will work and industry estimates are that this can take between thirty and ninety days to reach full efficiency. There are a few things to consider when using this method of startup or restart.

You will be hauling wastewater sludge into or through your community.

The biology in the neighboring community may or may not have all the bacteria that you will need.

Every wastewater system has different inflow, so therefore the biology will be different. And if you have industrial dischargers or significant industrial users (SIU), the odds are your neighbor will not have what you need.

One of the challenges we have seen with using this method is the introduction of unwanted bacteria in your system. We have seen several incidents where a plant has hauled activated sludge for a startup or restart and they have introduced filamentous bacteria, such as Nocardia and Mycrothrix into their system. This then results in foaming issues if there is FOG (fats, oils, and grease) in the system. Anyone interested in a root beer float?


Bio-augmentation is another method being used to restart your system or to complete an initial startup of a new plant or system. This process requires purchasing commercially available microbial cultures for your plant. If you purchase a high quality, species rich diversity (SRD) product experts estimate your system may be fully on line in three to thirty days. Most of the systems using this method take about ten days to populate.

Now you should become aware of some of the differences in the available bio-augmentation products on the market, today. You want to look for products that have actual bacteria or microbial counts in them. You want to make sure that the product has large number of colony forming unit (CFU) per milliliter and most importantly a high variety of bacteria species richness diversity (SRD). Some products will only have one, two or three types of bacteria, while others may have dozens. You want to look for products with high SRDs. Remember, your system has lots of different materials in the inflow that need to be bio-degraded, so you will need a variety of species to complete the work. You may, also, see products with millions of microbial per gallon or per milliliter. Make sure you do the math. Products with 100 million per milliliter actually have more bacteria than those that have one billion per gallon. We always recommend that you use products that are in liquid form. Many of the states’ circuit riders and government agencies are now accepting bio-augmentation as a viable solution for startup, restart, and also overall plant efficiencies in many areas.

Products that do not have actual bacteria/microbes in them, such as enzyme products, are considered bio-stimulants and will not inoculate your system with new bacteria.


One or more of the systems or programs listed above will work for you. You need to decide which will best meet your needs. If you want a speedy recovery, then bio-augmentation with quality products, that meet or exceed the above criteria, could be your best solution. If funding is the most critical issue, then natural recovery may be your best solution, as long as you are not out of compliance. If easy re-inoculation of your system is important, the bio-augmentation could be the preferred method over hauling activated sludge. If you have easy access to activated sludge, that does not require extensive hauling, then this may be your choice.

Using commercially available bio-augmentation products may be the best solution. Recently an industrial plant in the Dakotas used this method to restart their plant and the operator reported saving $75,000 in hauling fees, by using bio-augmentation and his plant was working to acceptable levels in three days.

A western municipality chose to activate a new wastewater plant recently by using six 5,000-gallon tanker loads (30,000 gallons total) of activate sludge which was hauled from over 100 miles away. They may have been able to start the new plant very successfully with only a few hundred gallons of the appropriate bio-augmentation program. There have been many successful plant startups using bio-augmentation as the only source of material.

If you decide to use commercially available bio-augmentation as your startup or restart program, make sure the product has high CFUs and most importantly high SRDs. In some cases, you may want to utilize a combination of methods.


Rick Allen can be reached at 303.888.2008 and Herb Fancher can be reached at 970.481.6626 or BioLynceus® provides consulting and environmental solutions for: remediation of soils, water, and wastewater for corporations, governmental agencies, and private businesses, growth systems for turf, sustainable and organic agriculture, and weed mitigation for private and governmental agencies. For more information, visit

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