Valentine’s Day Tour of Athens Water Reclamation Facility

BY: Christina Cannon

Valentine’s Day is a holiday that can sometimes leave people feeling like love stinks, but the Athens-Clarke County Utilities Department wants people to know that it doesn’t have to.

A special romantic tour of the North Oconee Water Reclamation Facility was provided on a first-come-first-serve basis to the first 10 couples to sign up but was so popular, a second tour was opened up. The educational tour incorporated a Valentine’s Day theme and was complete with a reception overlooking one of its water basins.

“If you were to put a rose petal in the water at the beginning of the cycle, 24 hours later you could see it on the other side, assuming it made it through our screening,” said Education Program Specialist and tour guide Laurie Loftin, in an attempt for added romance.

Water treatment facilities have a life span of about 20 years according to Loftin, but the North Oconee Water Reclamation facility was operational for 50 years before it was decommissioned in 2012. The tour was held in a new facility erected right beside its dated counterpart.

The North Oconee facility is one of three water treatment facilities in Athens-Clarke County and gets its water from a 46 square mile area including the University of Georgia, downtown Athens, and numerous industrial plants.

The water is considered to be reclaimed meaning that the facility brings waste water back to a reusable condition according to the Athens-Clarke County website. The effluent, or exiting, water can be used for irrigation or be fed back into waterways.

According to Loftin, less than one percent of what the facility receives is solid waste, but the first step in treating the water is to remove that waste. The North Oconee facility has a gravity fed system where the water is pumped down through a catchment screen, so no excess electricity is used.

After the primary treatment of removing solids, the water goes through a secondary biological treatment to remove the dissolved organic matter. In this step, micro-organisms eat the organic matter as food.

The micro-organisms, which are solid particles by this phase of the treatment process, are then removed by a skimmer before the water is disinfected by ultraviolet light.

Water then flows over a cascade to reaerate it before it is pumped back into the North Oconee River.

Water treatment can be linked to improved physical health, wildlife habitat protection, economic health and better suitability for recreational water use, according to the Athens-Clarke County website.

A study found on said one in every nine people lack access to safe water, and every minute a child dies from a water related disease.

Some people might not find a tour of “50 Shades of Brown” as an ideal date, but it is a unique way to spend time with a loved one. Love doesn’t have to stink after all.

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