Johns Creek Environmental campus lean, green

July 23, 2010

ROSWELL – The Fulton County Board of Commissioners, indeed all of Fulton County, had a great deal to celebrate July 16 at the ribbon cutting of the Johns Creek Environmental Campus, the long-awaited water reclamation and re-use treatment facility that will be the centerpiece of the Fulton County Public Works Department.

Oh, and incidentally, it is the largest water reclamation plant in the United States using the latest biological membrane technology. The results have been startling. Capable of treating up to 15 million gallons per day (mgd), the facility at 8100 Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell returns treated water to the Chattahoochee River virtually the same as when it was withdrawn. Some of the water is piped into reuse pipes for other tasks such as irrigation.

The plant will supply the western end of North Fulton – Johns Creek entirely and parts of Alpharetta and Roswell – with all of its water needs through developmental build-out. It will replace the 7 mgd Johns Creek Water Reclamation Plant which is slated for decommissioning.

"The quality, reliability and redundancy are all extremely high. Yet this plant operates in a space one-fifth the size that would be needed for a traditional plant to treat the same amount of water," said Fulton Public Works Contract Operations Administrator O.P. Shukla.

Indeed, the 43-acre site is mostly undisturbed acreage or landscaped area. Only 5 acres are needed for the facility. Of that space, 8,000 square feet are dedicated to the educational component of the facility – hence the name Environmental Campus.

And it does resemble a campus more than a water treatment plant. The education component will provide students from elementary to college levels a place to conduct experiments, see exhibits and hear lectures about water quality, aquatic life on the Chattahoochee and water conservation.

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The campus portion of the site has walking tail with water elements and even a covered bridge to evoke how residents once crossed the Chattahoochee. Hatcher Hurd. (click for larger version)
The curriculum plan has not yet been adopted, but that will come once the staff is hired and school systems are invited to contribute ideas.

Meanwhile, visitors from all over the world, especially Africa and Asia have come to see this new plant that cleans the water without chemicals and returns water to its source with no environmental ill effects.

The breakthrough is the facility's use of innovative membrane bioreactor technology that removes nearly all bacteria during water treatment.

Membrane facilities provide a two-fold benefit. First, the effluent (reclaimed, clean water) is treated to a higher level than the standard reclamation process.

Add to that the facility has a much smaller footprint since membrane bioreactor technology eliminates the need for some of the elaborate processes typically used during treatment. That makes the Environmental Campus not only a good neighbor to nearby subdivisions, but a nearly invisible one.

The biggest knock on most sewerage treatment plants has been the smell. There is no problem here because the system uses the most advanced odor and noise control measures which are built into the design of the plant.

"This plant has virtually no noise and no odors," said Public Works Director Angela Parker. "Plus it is a 5-acre facility in the middle of a 43-acre site."

All the processes involved with wastewater treatment are designed to be covered and enclosed, and odorous gasses are treated prior to exhausting to the atmosphere. Any air that passes over the enclosed wastewater collection pools is sucked into one of 7 carbon cleansing tanks capable of treating 31,000 cubic feet of air per minute – each.

The wastewater has all of the waste solids removed in a series of screens and separation. The solids are shipped in closed trucks to landfills for disposal. The water moves on through a series of ever more fine mesh screens until it enters the membrane tank where even bacteria is separated from the water.

The final stage sends the water through ultraviolet light for final disinfection and re-aerated to put oxygen back in the water. Then water is reintroduced into the Chattahoochee.

The entire plant is run by seven operators using real-time computer monitors. The flow can actually be monitored and controlled off-site over the Internet, said Shukla. The night shift requires only two operators.

Kun Suwanarpa, Fulton County Public Works assistant director of water services, has had oversight of the project since construction of the $134 million facility (on time and on budget). She said the facility is everything the experts said it would be.

" This will change the way people think of water reclamation," Suwanarpa said. "It proves it is possible to build a sustainable plant, architecturally pleasing, that can operate right along with residential neighborhoods."

The most important element of the process, however, is the dedication of the trained staff who operates it, she said.

"They are my greatest source of pride in what we have accomplished," she said.


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