With great sewage comes great responsibility, so it’s no suprise that some of the more forward thinking cities in the U.S. are beginning to transform their wastewater treatment facilities into community resources. The latest example comes from Olympia, Washington, where a sewage treatment plant features a brand new LEED Platinum-aspiring education center complete with a green roof, ornamental pond and fountain sculpture fed by reclaimed water from the treatment plant. The reclaimed water also irrigates the roof and grounds, and is used to operate toilets in the new facility, so visitors get a mini-lesson in wastewater reclamation with every flush.
Another example is the gigantic Newtown Creek sewage treatment plant in New York City, which added a public nature walk to its grounds in 2007. Just this spring, Newtown Creek opened a new visitor center featuring a water sculpture sculpture by famed artist Vito Acconci (as if the plant’s dramatic digester eggs needed any more help!). The city plans to make multi-purpose rooms in the visitor center, along with their sweeping views of the facility, available for community organizations and other groups.
Wastewater Treatment Plants as Resource Recovery Centers
This is where the fun begins. Municipal wastewater is a rich trove of organic materials that can yield a surprising number of treasures. There’s fertilizer or soil enhancer, of course, which can be processed from dried sewage sludge that has zero or minimal industrial content. The effluent can be used for flushing toilets or general cleaning purposes (just ask the U.S Navy about reclaimed wastewater!) and for irrigating land including golf courses. Then there’s biogas, for another thing. Bioplastics (potentially), for yet another. And yes, even real gold is being recovered from sewage. So Goldschlager fans, drink away – it’s all good!
Wastewater Treatment Plants: It Just Keeps Getting Better
Because they cover a lot of ground, many sewage treatment plants are also ideal for solar energy installations,and perhaps to some extent wind turbines or geothermal installations. There may also be some potential for recovering hydrokinetic energy from wastewater as it flows through the treatment plant. The Olympia and New York City treatment plants are also providing a community education resource that will help develop a new generation that knows the true meaning of “waste not, want not.”
Image: NYC skyline from sewage treatment plant by dandeluca on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.