Clayton project will help conserve water

By Justin Reedy

With metro Atlanta's population booming past 3 million residents, clean drinking water is a resource that is becoming more and more scarce.

But a new project under way in Clayton County will help the county conserve water by reclaiming used waste water.

On Wednesday, the Clayton County Water Authority broke ground on the site for the new Casey Water Reclamation Facility off Flint River Road west of Jonesboro. The new Casey wastewater treatment plant - which will be one of the county's largest public works projects ever at a cost of $55 million - will treat sewage from a large portion of Clayton County.

The new facility will replace the existing Casey plant as well as the R.L. Jackson plant, and will have a significantly higher treatment capacity to meet 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.

In addition, the new facility will treat sewage to a much higher standard, allowing the county to later reclaim that water by using an innovative new process.

Unlike other metro Atlanta water systems, the CCWA doesn't typically discharge treated sewage into a river. Instead, the Water Authority sprays the treated sewage 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 - 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 - 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."

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, Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle 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 waste water, 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."

Site preparation on the new Casey plant has already begun, and construction should be completed by Sept. 2005. The project will be funded from bonds issued last year by the Water Authority.