Caption: The state-of-the-art North Advanced Water Reclamation Facility near Atlanta, Ga., pictured above, opens this week under a stringent effluent permit. (Photo courtesy Gwinnett County)
By SUSAN LACCETTI MEYERS
Nov. 1, 2000 (The Atlanta Journal)Up the road in Buford, 19 miles north of the Perimeter, I-85 and I-985 fork one to Greenville, S.C., the other to Gainesville and the North Georgia mountains.
In the base of this "V" lies a 700-acre tract that is the future of Gwinnett County. It's not some pioneering, neo-urban development. It is, instead, a $300 million, state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility that will enable Gwinnett to grow and flush at least until 2020.
The first pipeful of sewage will make its way into the North Advanced Water Reclamation Facility this week. As it does, it symbolizes the progress Gwinnett has made from where it was during the 1980s, when sewage spills and state-imposed moratoriums on new hookups were common.
While sewage rarely excites, Gwinnett's decision to build this high-tech and very expensive facility sets the standard for the rest of the Atlanta region. No city or county in the state has such extensive plans to accommodate growth.
State and local officials often get caught up in the growth whirlwind by proposing fashionable projects such as light rail or people movers. Or they dream of high-density, live-work-play communities. All are well and good conceptually, but many of them are whimiscal and may not even serve the region's future needs. It's the basics that first determine the quality of our lives. The nuts-and-bolts infrastructure, such as sewage capacity. There Gwinnett has a jump-start.
There's no doubt Gwinnett will put the plant to good use. County officials expect the 2000 census to show the population at 560,000; the 2020 projection is expected to reach at least 700,000, with a lot of the newcomers settling in the north end of the county. Each year, new construction adds 2 million to 3 million gallons a day to the county's wastewater system. The "North Plant" will at first accommodate 20 million gallons a day, then will expand to 60 million gallons a day in three to four years.
Of course, neighboring counties such as Forsyth and Hall are itching to use Gwinnett's new plant. But Commission Chairman Wayne Hill won't even discuss the prospect until the expansion is complete.
Because this plant will initially put effluent into the Chattahoochee River, and later with expansion, into Lake Lanier, the Department of Natural Resources has issued one of the state's strictest permits, including the most stringent phosphorous removal permit in the Southeast. The DNR is expected to give the county an expansion permit this month.
It traditionally costs the county from 30 to 70 cents to treat every 1,000 gallons. But at the new plant, the cost will run $1.25 to $1.75 per 1,000 gallons. There will be 12 steps in the process of treating liquid waste, for example, compared with the standard five-step process at most other plants.
Also driving costs are the backup systems. At the Norris Lake Pump Station in south Gwinnett, for example, the county had a history of spills during power outages. The North Plant has double and triple backups for virtually everything: power, pipes, treatment tanks, storage tanks, etc. Despite environmentalists' fears, no sewage can dump into Lake Lanier, some 10 miles away and uphill.
And the treated wastewater that will be pumped into Lanier will be better quality than the current lake water.
It's a hefty price, but Gwinnett sets the standard when it comes to flushing.
© Copyright 2000 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution