Where does the water go?

This week’s educational outing was all about water — what happens to it after it goes down the drain. Fulton County opened a really nice wastewater treatment plant a couple of years ago and Katy’s been wanting to tour it for quite a while. Besides the treatment facility, it also has classrooms, labs and an exhibit area. In another year, the plan is to have interactive exhibits and a model of the plant as children under seven can’t take the plant tour. Tours usually end with a hands-on science experiment but we weren’t able to do that today.

Johns Creek Environmental Campus

For the tour we joined a seven-year-old boy who has been interested in wastewater since he was two and his mom, and a family from England that comes to Atlanta periodically and remembered watching the plant being built. The land was vacant for years and years before the county decided to put in the treatment plant. The lot borders a subdivision where the homes start at $2 million. As you can imagine, when the county started making noise about putting in a wastewater treatment plant the (rich) neighbors threw a fit. It would be ugly, smelly, noisy and not anything they wanted next door. The county reassured them that the operations would be underground, odorless and noiseless.

And this is in the city of Roswell and I always say Roswell wants a city to look at, not to live in. Everything always has to be just perfect even if it’s inconvenient. Since Roswell started as a mill town prior to the Civil War, the plant was designed to look like some of the old mills. Although it also could be mistaken for a school or office building. If you notice in the above photos, there are no big tanks of water like you see at  most water plants. There are two small ponds on the property, but they look like ponds. Around the campus are walking paths and xeriscaped landscaped areas. Very nice. So the neighbors were persuaded. They did request a berm be built between the plant and their subdivision. The berm blocks the noise from traffic on the main road so their neighborhood should be quieter now than it was before the plant was built.

So we learned all about the process that wastewater goes through to be made clean enough to reuse. Some of the cleaned-up water is used in the plant for maintenance, landscaping and toilets. Debbie, our tour guide, pointed out it is not used for the drinking fountains! The majority of it goes back into the Chattahoochee River where it gets right back into the water cycle. 

Katy was real impressed with the Zeeweed Membrane filter. Each of these tubes is about twice the size of spaghetti and has a hole the size of a piece of spaghetti running through it. The water is sucked up through the tubes and anything bigger than the hole (pretty much everything) is left behind.

Katy and the Zeeweed

The whole plant is fully automated and there are just three engineers on duty during the day and two at night. Debbie pointed out one issue the engineers had was determining when something was wrong. With a traditional above-ground, noisy, smelly plant employees could rely on how the water smelled to clue them in that there was a problem. Now all the monitoring is done by computer.

The control room

And here is the finished product.

Cleaned up water on its way out.

The water is much cleaner than what is in the river but not clean enough to drink. Although I’m sure it’s much cleaner than the water I’ve drunk in a few third-world countries. There are probably a couple of billion people on the planet who would love to have water this clean. Debbie said more than anything it probably just wouldn’t taste very good.

So now that we know what happens to the waste water Katy wants to go to the drinking water plant. Hopefully we can do that in the next two weeks before school starts.

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