By Joel Hall
The memory of Clayton County Water Authority trailblazer, and former general manager, E.L. Huie, Jr., was honored Thursday morning, during a dedication ceremony for the fourth phase of the authority's constructed treatment wetlands.
Members of the authority's board, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, , and other local leaders, gathered in the middle of the 532-acre E.L. Huie, Jr., Land Application System, and renamed it the E.L. Huie, Jr., Constructed Treatment Wetlands.
Huie, who died in May at the age of 91, was honored with a commemorative plaque that will eventually be permanently installed on the wetlands property.
According to Pete McQueen, chairman of the water authority's board, Huie spearheaded the Land Application System in the late '70s and early '80s, as a way to overcome the county's difficulty in recycling treated wastewater through spray-irrigation methods. The implementation of the fourth phase of the constructed treatment wetlands earlier this month, represents the authority's total transition from spray-irrigation, to natural-filtering methods, he said.
"We would not be here today, if it wasn't for Mr. Huie," said McQueen. "We don't have a lot of natural water ... The water authority, many years ago, looked at it and said, 'What are we going to do, if we have a crisis, like the one we've been having?' [referring to the recent drought]. We had the spray-irrigation system that lasted us for a long time, but we decided that we had to do something where we wouldn't have to depend on the City of Atlanta for water.
"There is no blueprint for what you see today," he added, referring to the constructed treatment wetlands. "We don't know what is going to happen in the next few years, but, today, we're prepared for it. We had to borrow a lot of money to make these wetlands, but what you see out there is liquid gold."
According to water authority officials, the four phases of the Constructed Treatment Wetlands were built over the course of five years at a cost of $30 million. The fourth phase, constructed between 2007 and 2010, represents the system's largest phase, giving the authority the ability to safely return up to 17.4 million gallons of water per day to the county's water supply reservoirs.
"These state-of-the-art constructed wetlands do more than just allow water to flow through cattails," said Wayne Murphy, a project manager for CH2M Hill, the engineering firm that oversaw the construction. "The water that flows through the various cells can be adjusted to maximize the retention time, so the [amount of] phosphorus, nitrogen, and other organic compounds are reduced. The water [that] leaves the wetlands is of such superior quality, it can be discharged directly into the water authority's water reservoir, and subsequently, further re-used.
"It rains everyday in Clayton County, now to the tune of 17 million gallons a day," he added.
According to water authority officials, Clayton County's population of 275,000 uses approximately 25 million gallons of water per day. Along with 4.4 million gallons per day that the water authority is able to recycle through a separate wetlands site in the Panhandle community, the county will be able to recycle a total of 21.8 million gallons of water daily.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell said the Constructed Treatment Wetlands will fully prepare the county for any further dry spells. "This will give us greater capacity, both in the present and in the distant future," Bell said. "Clayton County will be thoroughly prepared for residential and commercial water use. We believe it is [the wetlands are] the way forward for our systems of the future," he added. "I am particularly thankful for the sacrifices the Huies have made."
Huie's son, E.L. Huie, III, and his daughter, Ethel Lynn Keeton, were present for Thursday's ceremony. Keeton said the dedication is a tribute to her father's foresight.
"What we were doing was not sustainable," said Keeton. "It's a wonderful tribute to his concern, vision, and leadership."