By Joel Hall
With the completion of the fourth phase of the Clayton County Water Authority's constructed treatment wetlands earlier this month, Clayton residents may never have to worry about the county having an adequate water supply.
Through natural filtration systems, the authority will now be able to almost completely replenish, on a daily basis, the 25 million gallons of water the county uses per day.
Today, the water authority will rededicate the treatment wetlands to E.L. Huie, Jr., the man who brought the idea of natural water-treatment systems to the county almost 40 years ago. A dedication ceremony for the E.L. Huie, Jr., Constructed Treatment Wetlands will take place at 10 a.m., at the authority's Shamrock Community Use Building, located at 2610 Shamrock Road in Jonesboro.
Following refreshments, and comments from local leaders, water authority officials will take visitors on a tour of the constructed wetlands system, which sits on 532 acres of land, along Freeman Road in Jonesboro.
According to Suzanne Brown, the authority's public information officer, the first three phases of the constructed treatment wetlands were completed between 2005 and 2007, on land formerly known at the E.L. Huie, Jr., Land Application System.
On an area of approximately 124 acres, the fourth phase of the system adds an additional 8.16 million gallons of water per day, to the 9.24 million gallons of water per day the site could recycle into local tributaries, previously.
"Right now, this currently meets our capacity needs," Brown said. "The drought [in 2008] brought home for everyone the question, 'Where are they going to get their water supply from?' At that time, our reserves only got down to 77 percent [from full capacity] ... because we were able to recharge our raw water reservoirs with [water from] these constructed wetlands.
"With this 8 additional millions of gallons a day that we can return, it allows us to return almost as much water as we use every day," she continued. "We really do have what is a sustainable water supply."
Brown said between the E.L. Huie, Jr., Constructed Treatment Wetlands, and a separate constructed wetlands site in the county's Panhandle community, the authority will be able to safely recycle 21.8 million gallons of water per day without the use of pumps, spraying, and other traditional irrigation methods.
"The old system had miles and miles of sprinkler heads," Brown said. "The sprinklers would jam and have to be replaced. Because the water filters through gravity, it's drastically reduced our electrical cost ... it's reduced our staff [and] it requires a lot less land.
"With the Land Application System, 100 to 150 acres of land was needed for 1 million gallons of treatment," she added. "With the constructed wetlands, we only need 20-25 acres for the same 1 million gallons of treatment."
Huie, a former general manager for the water authority, died in May, at the age of 91.
According to current Water Authority General Manager Mike Thomas, Huie ushered in the Land Application System during the mid '70s. The system, he said, allowed the water authority to bypass the county's limited access to bodies of water by dispersing highly-treated wastewater back into nature, using spray irrigation.
Thomas said that without Huie's vision, the authority would not have been able to make the transition from land application to constructed wetlands filtration. He said today's ceremony will recognize Huie's contributions.
"That was a big project for the water authority, getting the land for the land application site," Thomas said. "Had he [Huie] not done that, we wouldn't have that land available for the wetlands. Other governments would like to do what we are doing, but they just don't have the land available.
"What he did was huge," he said. "We thought it was very appropriate to recognize him."