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Wastewater treatment plant online

By Ed Brock

Apart from some temporary concerns about the health of their "bugs," the new W.B. Casey Water Reclamation Facility is online.

The $55 million plant on Flint River Road near Jonesboro is one of the largest construction projects in the county. It has the capacity to process 24 million gallons of water a day, several times more than the 19.5 million gallons a day capacity of the old Casey plant and the R.L. Jackson Water Reclamation Facility that it is replacing.

And it has been finished a year early and for less than the expected $61 million cost, according to the Clayton County Water Authority.

"This project is the culmination of years of planning and execution by our staff, our engineers and the contractors and the results are even more than we hoped for," said Wade Brannan, general manager of the CCWA. "Not only do we have a plant that will improve our operations and expand our capacity for wastewater treatment, but we have saved valuable time and money for our customers as well."

The construction of the new plant is part of the CCWA's 10-year master plan titled the Water Resources Initiative 2000. The authority broke ground on the plant in October 2002.

Right now the plant is undergoing its startup process and is processing about 15 million gallons a day, said Mike Thomas, CCWA lead engineer. There were some minor setbacks.

"Any time you're in a plant startup, you have some new equipment," Thomas said. "Some of that works the way it should and some of it doesn't."

Thus the plant's population of "bugs," or beneficial bacteria that consume the waste in the water, is still rebounding from the dip in oxygen levels in the plant's aeration basins that occurred as a result of the equipment shutdown. But that will be corrected soon enough and the plant will be operating at normal levels, Thomas said.

Along with the increased capacity, the new plant features improved technology that will provide better treatment of the water passing through the plant. That's part of the CCWA plan to move from the current system of "land application" to the use of "constructive wetlands" for the final treatment of the water.

"In order to do that we have to treat the water a little better than we did," Thomas said.

The land application approach means that the water that passes through the plant is sprayed over a large area of land so it can be naturally filtered and purified before returning to the county's drinking water. The water drains off the land and into the county's reservoirs.

Constructive wetlands offer the same process but they use less land and incur far lower operating costs, Thomas said.

But before the water gets to that point it undergoes a series of treatments, starting with a screening process that removes all the "grit" and large objects from the raw sewage. Thomas said that can include anything from feminine products to rags.

"You want to get all that out that you can so you just have liquid passing through your pumps," Thomas said.

Then the water goes through a series of clarifiers and the aeration basins. In the 20-foot deep aeration basins air is pumped into the water to activate the bacteria that remove the waste. The work of the bacteria can be determined by the amount of air flow, Thomas said.

With less air the bacteria remove more nitrogen from the water, and with more air they remove more phosphorus.

In the clarifiers the remaining solids in the water are allowed to settle to the bottom of large tanks where they are collected as "activated sludge." The sludge is sent to a "pelleting processor" where it is dried and sold to fertilizer companies.

"Most of ours goes to Florida and gets used on citrus groves," Thomas said.

The plant is designed to reduce the odor from the process as much as possible, but early in the morning Richard Jordan, who lives in Riverwood Townhouses across Flint River Road from the plant, can still smell it.

"It's not bothering me," Jordan said. "It does stink, but that's about it."