Mayor Bob Hamrick shook his head and said, “We’ve come a long way” when informed that a city sewage treatment plant earned national recognition from the EPA.
Back in the 1980s, the state slapped fines on the Flat Creek wastewater treatment plant for environmental transgressions. There were tales of chicken legs floating down the creek into the lake.
Now, Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall and plant manager Michael West will head to San Diego on Oct. 15 to receive a national second-place award for the plant’s management.
The EPA decides how much of each priority pollutant, such as phosphorous, can be released into the stream without degrading it, West said. The plant has some of the strictest limits for water quality in the state, and works to exceed those.
Randall added that the plant consistently produced better quality water than required by environmental agencies, leading to the national recognition.
“Everybody’s got a set of rules that they’ve got to live by,” West said. “Our people do a better job of following the rules and beating anything that the rules require.”
Randall said some of the plant’s success can be attributed to preventative maintenance.
“Rather than being reactionary, we’re proactive in our maintenance programs,” Randall said.
West created a fish pond out of an old dechlorination tank that is stocked with fish that swam out of the river into the sewage pipes. He uses it to show plant visitors how clean the water is once it leaves the plant and flows into Flat Creek to Lake Lanier. The idea is that if the water can sustain natural wildlife, it is safe enough to be returned into the area’s streams.
But Flat Creek Plant employees give back more to the environment than clean water. After squeezing water out of solid sewage, the plant reuses it. After the water is removed from the solid sewage, it is sent to Plains, mixed with peanut shells, and made into a compost that serves as a replacement for peat moss.
West said the water that leaves Flat Creek Plant is about 99.9% free of solids, and is very near to drinking quality.