Work progressing on Authority's project

By Justin Reedy

Clayton County's newest wastewater treatment plant is so massive it will be hard to miss from Flint River Road, but county water officials hope its neighbors' noses won't notice it.

That's because the Clayton County Water Authority is spending $3.9 million of the $55 million total price tag for the new Casey Water Reclamation Facility on odor controls.

The controls, which are more technologically advanced than those at the existing Casey plant, should keep people from noticing that sewage is being treated at the new facility. The new technology represents a change from chemical scrubbers to "biofitters," or biological odor controls, which utilize microorganisms in place of chemicals.

"It treats a wider range of odor problems than chemical scrubbers," explained Jim Poff, manager of water reclamation for the CCWA.

The new Casey treatment plant is under construction on an enormous site off Flint River Road west of Jonesboro, a project that is the largest in the Water Authority's history. In addition to state-of-the-art odor controls, it will incorporate many other technological advances, making it a significant upgrade over the current Casey plant and the county's R.L. Jackson plant on Thomas Road.

One major upgrade at the new plant will be the ability to reclaim more wastewater into fresh drinking water through advanced filtration. Having that capability will be important in metro Atlanta, where water is a resource that is becoming more and more scarce as the city's population booms.

Unlike other metro Atlanta water systems, the CCWA doesn't typically discharge treated sewage into a river. Instead, the Water Authority sprays the effluent over forested land using a LAS, or land application system, and the water filters through the vegetation and soil before entering the water system.

But over the next several years, the CCWA wants to start using a constructed wetlands system, which does essentially the same thing as a LAS, but does it more efficiently and produces cleaner water at the end of the filtration process. That clean water can then be pumped into the county's reservoir, where it is later filtered and used as drinking water.

In order to use constructed wetlands, however, treated sewage has to be cleaner than the effluent produced by the existing Casey plant n which is one justification for the new plant. Building the new Casey plant will allow the county to use a constructed wetlands system, and therefore help the county conserve water, according to CCWA General Manager Wade Brannan.

"It's an innovative approach to continue to use natural systems to treat water and reclaim it in our reservoirs," Brannan said. "Water is a limited resource n we've got a limited supply, so reuse is really the name of the game. Water reuse is becoming more prevalent in metro Atlanta, and we're already on the forefront of that."

CH2MHill, the Water Authority's consulting engineers on this and many other projects, is impressed with the CCWA's dedication to constructed wetlands and other new water treatment technology.

"Instead of just treating wastewater and dumping it in the river, looking at it as a liability, they're looking at it as a resource," said Rick Hirsekorn, an engineer with CH2MHill. "They're closing the loop."

In addition to helping the county preserve and reuse its wastewater, the new plant will also have a higher treatment capacity, which is also important in light of the county's growing population.

The new plant will have a raw sewage capacity of 24 million gallons per day, according to Mike Buffington, project manager for the CCWA. That is a significant upgrade from the existing plant's capacity of 15 million gallons per day and the 4.4 million gallons per day that the Jackson plant can handle, Buffington said, and the new plant can also be expanded later to handle up to 30 million gallons of sewage per day.

This project is just one example of how the Water Authority has kept up with population growth in Clayton County, according to Crandle Bray, chairman of the county Commission.

"We've had the vision on the Water Authority board to see that population growth coming," Bray said. "The Clayton County Water Authority has stayed ahead of that curve."

Though such a large project, and other capital improvements the CCWA has planned in the future, could lead to higher water bills for local residents, Bray said that increase is well worth it, and that the county will remain very competitive in utility rates.

"Yes, sooner or later (building new water treatment plants) is going to cost a little bit more," Bray said. "But we're going to have clean drinking water and the ability to treat and reclaim wastewater, and not all counties will be able to say that. We're still the cheapest in metro Atlanta, and we'll remain one of the cheapest."

Construction of the new Casey plant is about 25 percent done, Poff said, and the plant could be completed by the end of 2004 n well ahead of the initial projected completion date of April 2005.