If you were an astronaut orbiting the Earth, you could spot the Muskegon County, Michigan wastewater treatment plant. That’s how huge the facility is, which is one reason why its management is eagerly seeking proposals for a new utility-scale wind farm on the site. The unpopulated parcel of land comprises about 11,000 acres. That’s a pretty astonishing size for a wastewater treatment plant, so it’s worth taking a closer look at the operation to see just what is going on.
The Muskegon County Wastewater Management System
As it turns out, the nuts-and-bolts part of the operation only occupies a small part of the site. The rest of the wastewater management operation consists of farmland, which is irrigated using treated effluent from the facility. Aside from conserving water, this system has saved the community’s valuable recreational lakes from encroaching pollution, while enabling local industry and business to continue developing.
Muskegon came up with this sustainable solution back in 1973, and the rest of the country is just catching up. As it turns out, reclaiming wastewater for farm irrigation is just one of many opportunities. For example, the tony St. Andrews Country Club of Boca Raton recently began using recycled wastewater from a nearby treatment facility to irrigate its greens. Even more impressive is the new wastewater treatment plant at the Otay Mesa Land Port of Entry, one of the busiest border crossings in the U.S. From now on, millions of visitors will be welcomed by a pleasant stroll along a walkway that traverses a beautiful wetland, which doubles as a natural step in the treatment process.
Wind Power is Just the Beginning
Management at the Muskogee facility notes that the local community is supportive of the wind power project, perhaps due to the facility’s history of water reclamation along with its hydro plant and landfill gas operation. That could explain why the management seems confident about the site’s ability to host other forms of renewable energy. They are actively seeking input on other ventures including algae farming, waste grease recycling, and livestock biogas.
Farmland and Wind Turbines
As amply demonstrated by a new 146-megawatt wind farm in Missouri, large scale wind farms can easily coexist with working farms while providing local communities with jobs, tax revenues, and economic development opportunities. It’s a stark contrast with fossil fuel harvesting, which by nature can devastate local communities and stunt economic growth over an entire region. In the case of coal mining it’s particularly ironic. A great deal of U.S. coal is exported, and at least one major U.S. coal company has just announced plans to export even more coal for overseas steelmakers. In effect we’re blowing up huge chunks of our national heritage and depressing our own local economies in order to fuel manufacturing jobs overseas. I’d rather take the wind power, thanks.
Image: Wind farm by erikogan 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+.