Clayton working to recycle more water

By Justin Boron

When it comes to water, Clayton County has topography working against it.

Situated at the top of a watershed, it doesn't have a lot of water flowing into it. In fact, a ridge line that roughly exists along the center of the county sends water toward the Gulf of Mexico or toward the Atlantic Ocean.

For that reason, officials at the Clayton County Water Authority say it is crucial to retain what it gets in the system.

To accomplish a self-sufficient water system, it has set up a network of facilities to re-collect, clean, and store the flow of 70.66 million gallons of wastewater it averages a day.

Whereas other communities draw water from a river, 70 to 80 percent of Clayton County's water is recycled.

"You just don't have a big gigantic river," said Terry Hicks, the authority's deputy general manager. "This organization recognized that and starting building reservoirs."

Saving water also has created security in cases of extreme drought. Water authority officials say they have 140 days worth of water saved up in reservoirs, if for whatever reason water completely ran out.

Currently, the water authority operates three reclamation facilities with a maximum capacity of 34.4 million gallons daily. That puts the facilities used at only 70 percent capacity. But unless Clayton County plans to stall its growth completely, expansion of its water facilities is inevitable, water authority officials said.

The latest expansion to that network is a $55.6 million upgrading of the Northeast Reclamation Facility, which it broke ground on last month.

The improvement will increase the facility's capacity by 66 percent, adding 4 more million gallons of flow daily to the overall system.

"We have anticipated the need for this plant's expansion as a result of our current master plan, which we began implementing back in 2000," said CCWA General Manager Wade Brannan. "This construction is consistent with our philosophy to stay ahead of the curve on system upgrades and should be the last major undertaking of this kind by the Authority for quite some time."

Even if it wanted to, it couldn't borrow water from other places.

"Nobody's got any to give us," Brannan said.

With Atlanta still growing, he said he foresees a time when even communities that have access to large watersheds will have to start recycling water more.

"Atlanta as a region is going to have to get better at recycling water," he said.

The water authority also is in the process of converting its post-reclamation filtration systems.

The model from which it is departing is called a land application, which sprays treated wastewater into a forested site, said Jim Poff, the director of water reclamation.

Eventually, it goes into the groundwater and flows into a reservoir, he said.

Over the next 10 to 15 years, authority officials say they will have converted completely to a wetlands-mitigation system, which offers more capacity and is more environmentally friendly, Poff said.