Anna Bentley 2016-03-25 05:52:15
Gwinnett County Leads a National Research Project with Global Implications Gwinnett County’s Department of Water Resources is launching a study to determine whether a treatment process can be used, in a novel way, to treat wastewater to a level that would meet drinking water standards - a project that could impact how treatment facilities around the world process wastewater and offer viable solutions for more cost-effective, resource-friendly water reclamation. The county’s 22-month direct potable reuse pilot project, which is being funded in part by a grant from the WateReuse Research Foundation, will test the feasibility and economics of using a water treatment process called ozone biologically active filtration - also known as ozone-BAF - to produce drinking water directly from reclaimed water, says the project’s principal investigator, Denise Funk. “What’s unique about this research is that we’re evaluating ozone- BAF instead of the more expensive reverse osmosis treatment that is currently being used in other places,” she says. “Reverse osmosis treatment can be more expensive and complicated because it produces a concentrated brine waste stream. Ozone-BAF does not produce this waste stream and addresses the destruction, not just the removal, of certain chemical constituents.” Currently, water treated at the F. Wayne Hill Water Resource Center (WRC) is pumped back into Lake Lanier cleaner than it was removed. This study aims to see if wastewater can be cleaned well enough to meet high drinking water standards without having to put it back into Lake Lanier prior to consumption. If the pilot is successful the County’s research could provide more options to areas lacking an abundant supply of fresh water, either by location, overwhelming demand or drought - and serve as a model for cost-effective reclamation of water around the world. “Globally, the problem of water scarcity is growing as more people put increasing demands on limited supplies of fresh water,” Gwinnett County Water Resources Director Ron Seibenhener says. “This project will allow water utilities to integrate reclaimed water into their water supply options.” “I think the results can have an impact nationally and internationally,” agrees Funk. “From a financial standpoint, ozone-BAF is a more cost-effective solution than reverse osmosis-based processes, so the research could be the key to helping utilities evaluate other water supply options... and helping utilities gauge whether they can use reclaimed water. They may not have the funds available to implement water reuse using a reverse osmosis-based process, but they could with an ozone-BAF-based process.” Georgia Tech professor Dr. Ching-Hua Huang, one of the program’s educational partners, thinks the project could help utilities rethink how they see water as well. Instead of seeing drinking water and wastewater as separate resources, they could just be one resource: “water.” This shift could affect water policies and influence how water utilities approach drought and demand issues. Since county officials approved the program in August of last year, the research team has been hard at work finalizing details for the pilot plant and developing detailed work plans for the one-year pilot study, pilot plant operation and water quality testing program. Construction on the pilot plant is scheduled to be completed in March, with the pilot phase of the program beginning in April 2016. The pilot plant is a small-scale, low-flow facility located at the Shoal Creek Filter Plant. But, it will operate like a full-scale water treatment facility, says Funk, and will produce treated water 24/7 to be used for analytical purposes only. Gwinnett County’s drinking water will be unaffected by the project. Two Ph.D. students from Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering will assist with running day-to-day pilot plant operations and perform some of the analytical testing, under the direction of Dr. Huang. Testing will analyze water quality across a variety of microbial, chemical and biological indicators. Other industry partners include engineering firms CDM Smith and Hazen and Sawyer, as well as Eurofins Eaton Analytical, Inc. Funk’s coprincipal investigators are Dr. Kati Bell with MWH Global and Jennifer Hooper with CDM Smith. Dr. Ben Stanford of Hazen and Sawyer will also contribute to the project. And, as a show of their dedication to the project, some partners have pitched in financially as well. The WateReuse Foundation matches cash contributions on its collaboration projects up to $100,000. The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners approved approximately $922,000 for the research program in August 2015. This amount includes over $250,000 in contributions from research partners, analytical labs and instrument manufacturers. Research partner, CDM Smith, contributed $10,000 to the project, as well as $150,000 of in-kind, professional labor. “It shows the level of importance of the project,” says Funk. “I think it could be a real game-changer.” In addition to voting unanimously to approve the research project, Gwinnett County also approved an additional $735,000 to build two pilot plants, one for this project and another focused on biofiltration. Both pilot plants will be used for future water and wastewater treatment research. After the pilot phase wraps up early next year, the research team will spend a few months analyzing data, writing reports and finalizing conclusions. And though the results of the pilot program remain to be seen, the potential for creating viable solutions for communities around the world has Gwinnett County officials hopeful, no matter the outcome. “Even if it doesn’t prove to be the solution, it could be the start of different paths to get to that solution,” Seibenhener told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July. “We want to make it safe, reliable and cheap.”
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