Berryville’s New Sewage Treatment Plant – Video Tour

David Tyrrell, Berryville’s Director of Utilities, says that he has always loved chemistry and that fondness is reflected in his eyes when Tyrell starts talking about the processes going on deep within the Town’s sewage treatment plant tanks. What sets Tyrell apart from many other technical experts is that he understands the ins-and-outs of things like “anaerobic versus aerobic” and “polymer de-waterfication” so well that even non-techies can understand his explanations.

(l-r) Berryville Town Manager Keith Dalton, Mayor Wilson Kirby, Councilman David Tollett and Sewage Plant Manager David Tyrell - Photo Edward Leonard

Given his love for science, especially the chemical magic behind extracting clean water from raw sewage sludge, it probably felt like Christmas morning and getting the biggest chemistry set in the world when Tyrell took over the construction and  management of Berryville’s $28M sewage treatment plant two years ago.

During a tour on Wednesday Tyrell demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of how the new plant will convert 300K gallons of daily raw sewage to almost-drinkable water in just 24 hours rather that the current plant’s 45-day process.

“The new plant uses activated sludge that concentrates the bacterial process” Tyrell explained to Berryville mayor Wilson Kirby, council member David Tollett (Ward Four) and town manager Keith Dalton who travelled to the sewage plant construction site to see how things were progressing. “Not only is the new process faster than the existing process, the final output includes less solids, nutrients and has a lower oxygen demand.”

Tyrell said that part of the magic can be found in the high-tech fiber filtration that provides the final step in separating water from potentially dangerous pathogens. Tyrell said that the filters contain thousands of miles of hollow membrane tubing that prevents anything larger than one micron from passing through. Because the membranes are the last step in the filtration process there is no physical way for untreated water to reach the outfall line.

Each of the four membrane filtration panels used in the plant costs $125K and is expected to last ten to twelve years.

Tyrell says that the four-stage sewage treatment process produces not only clean water that will improve the quality of the Shenandoah River and the Chesapeake Bay, but also Class “B” bio-solids, a safe agricultural fertilizer source because there are no industrial heavy metal sources in Berryville.

Two 1500 KW V-16 diesel powered back-up electricity generators can keep the plant fully operational for 36 hours - and even longer if operations are scaled back in the event of a disaster - Photo Edward Leonard

While construction of the new treatment plant is expensive – $10.5M of the cost was covered by a grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality with the remainder paid by Berryville taxpayers – the upgrade is long overdue.

Tyrell said that the existing waste water outfall line, replaced by a new line late last year, is 110 years old and that the lab facility for the existing treatment plant was built in 1958. The new facility’s state-of-the-art technology and processing capability can handle as much as 4.5M gallons of sewage a day if necessary.

Construction work on the plant is being managed by Caldwell and Santmyer Inc. of Berryville, Virginia.

Construction work at the new Berryville Sewage Treatment plant is being performed by Caldwell and Santmyer Inc. of Berryville, Virginia - Photo Edward Leonard

Even though the end result of the new sewage treatment plan will be cleaner water and a healthier Chesapeake Bay, the price tag for the project is significant for a small town like Berryville.

“This is the most expensive project that the Town of Berryville has ever done and the benefits will last for a long time” said Mayor Kirby. “It’s amazing how effective the technical process is. Even so, there’s a lot of other things that we’d rather be spending the tax dollars on. I guess this is a necessary evil.”

Tyrell says that he expects the new plant to begin processing sewage later this summer.


Take a tour of Berryville’s new sewage treatment plant here:


  1. Landspreading of sewage sludge “biosolids” is a dangerous activity.

    Dr. Claudio Soto, Univ/Tex recently proved what other scientists have been saying for years – Alzheimers is a prion disease (similar to mad cow disease- US epidemic = 6 million victims):

    Alzheimer’s victims shed infectious prions in their blood, saliva, mucous, urine and feces. Sewage treatment does NOT inactivate prions. To the contrary, it reconcentrates the infectious prions in the sewage sludge being applied on home gardens, US cropland, grazing fields and dairy pastures, putting humans, family pets, wildlife and livestock at risk.

    Other prion contaminated wastes discharged to sewers include rendering plants (which process remains of 2 million potentially BSE infected downer cows each year), slaughterhouses, embalmers and morticians, biocremation, taxidermists, butcher shops, veterinary and necropsy labs, hospitals, landfill leachates (where CWD infected and other carcasses are disposed),

    Drinking water is at risk for prions if it comes from a surface source (river or lake) which receives treated sewage effluent.

    EPA NATIONAL WATER RESEARCH COMPENDIUM 2009-2014 lists PRIONS eight times as an EMERGING CONTAMINANT of concern in sewage sludge “biosolids” , water and manure:

    Renown prion researcher, Joel Pedersen, University of Wisconsin, found that prions become 680 times more infective in certain soils:

    Oral Transmissibility of Prion Disease Is Enhanced by Binding to Soil Particles
    Dr. Pedersen and associates found that anaerobic digestion sewage treatment did NOT inactivate prions in sludge. “Persistence of Pathogenic Prion Protein during Simulated Wastewater Treatment Processes”

    ” Our results suggest that if prions were to enter municipal wastewater treatment systems, most of the agent would partition to activated sludge solids, survive mesophilic anaerobic digestion, and be present in
    treated biosolids. Land application of biosolids containing prions could represent a route for their unintentional introduction into the environment. Our results argue for excluding inputs of prions to municipal wastewater treatment.”

    “Prions could end up in wastewater treatment plants via slaughterhouse drains, hunted game cleaned in a sink, or humans with vCJD shedding prions in their urine or faeces, Pedersen says”

    In the July 3, 2010 issue of VETERINARY RECORD, Dr. Pedersen stated: “Finally, the disposal of sludge was considered to represent the greatest risk of spreading (prion) infectivity to other premises.”

    Helane Shields, PO Box 1133, Alton,, NH 03809 603-875-3842

  2. Watchful says:

    “From EPA website-Best Management Practices for Unused Pharmaceuticals at Health Care Facilities

    Pharmaceuticals are being discovered in our nation’s waters at very low concentrations. While the sources of these pharmaceuticals may be numerous, EPA has been studying unused pharmaceutical disposal practices at health care facilities. This study was prompted by the concern that potentially large amounts of pharmaceuticals are being flushed or disposed of down the drain, ultimately ending up in rivers, streams and coastal waters.”

    • Yes….but…if you look at the actual diluted amount of “medicines” in the water, a person would have to drink somewhere in the range of 80 swimming pools to get an amount equal to one tylenol. I think we have more risk of harming ourselves just by driving around.

      People working at the EPA are hysterical.

  3. Clarke County Annie says:

    Great. More worries for our river. Especially when B-ville dumps by Rt. 7 bridge. Thought it was enough dealing with the PCB’s, mercury and cattle pooh.

  4. $28M sewage treatment plant….another way of saying “illegal tax on local citizens” mandated by a government bureau not granted the power of taxation within the Constitution

    • Interesting comments. In some ways it’s too bad it’s gotten away from the original article but some important points are raised.

      Dirk, if you don’t mind me asking because you make an interesting point, who do you propose is levying the tax?

      Regarding the sewage sludge issue, there are undoubtedly significant problems with sludge use. Particularly regarding the inadequate regulatory scheme in play right now in Virginia. I’ve been working for over a year with attorneys and experts in the field to try to get some improvements in the regulations. More on that later.

      Jeff Kelble
      Shenandoah Riverkeeper

  5. The Town of Berryville is issued a permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to operate its wastewater treatment plant and discharge treated wastewater effluent into the Shenandoah River. Because DEQ is charged with protecting and enhancing Virginia’s environment, and promoting the health and well-being of the citizens of the Commonwealth, this permit is issued with certain effluent discharge limits If my memory serves me, Berryville consistently failed to meet the discharge limits established by VA DEQ for several years. In essence, Berryville was not upholding its end of the bargain to protect both the environment and the health and well-being of the citizens of Virginia. DEQ probably mandated these upgrades for Berryville to come into compliance with the permitted discharge limits, or their permit to operate and discharge would have been revoked.

    @ Clarke Co. Annie: In my opinion, this is an improvement for our river. Berryville has been discharging partially treated effluent into the river for several years. Now the treatment level and resulting effluent quality will be improved.

    @ Dirk: You’re probably right, the DEQ doesn’t have the authority to levee taxes. But I’m pretty sure the Town does. To keep the toilets-a-flushing at my house, your house, marios, the fire hall and the police station (to name a few), these upgrades had to be made, and the money had to come from somewhere. DEQ provided some funding but Berryville had to pony up the rest, or we would have raw sewage running down our streets. While this may seem ‘hysterical’ to you, it seems practical, in my opinion.

    Rob C.
    Wastewater Treatment Enthusiast

    • Rob…I don’t really disagree with you. I understand we do need sewage treatment plant and I don’t really fault local government. My point is that the EPA is effectively imposing a tax on a select group of citizens surrounding the Chesapeake and it has no taxing authority under the Constitution.

      Furthermore, bureaucrats sitting in the EPA offices are able to levy a tax for a supposed problem in which the efficacy of the supposed solution is never qualified. Whereas, we may be spending $300M on a problem that yields less then fair results or quite possibly no results. The fiat power that is wielded from a few individuals is disgraceful.

      Our water/sewer rates have skyrocketed for what? Who validates the results? Are we as local citizens in Berryville really causing the problem in the Chesapeake and even if so, who has the authority to increase our taxes in such a egregious fashion? Who has the legal authority to set this value?

      Forgive me, but this subject is maddening.