Water Resources Reused and Reinvigorated

Water Recycling in Iowa; and Wetland Restoration in Illinois

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Winnie Gleason is a professional engineer with Fox Engineering Associates Inc. in Ames, Iowa.

Sarah Coulter is sustainability coordinator with the Village of Park Forest, Ill., just outside Chicago.

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Posted: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 1:14 pm | Updated: 10:27 am, Fri Nov 1, 2013.

Water resources are taken for granted in many parts of the United States, but the drought of 2012 and increasingly unpredictable rainfall in many parts of the country since then are making communities rethink their water use and resources, whether they have too little or too much.

This was the focus of the session, When It Rains, It Pours (Or Not), presented at the 6th annual Growing Sustainable Communities Conference, held recently in Dubuque, Iowa.

After the drought in 2012, many Midwestern communities began to rethink their water use – and waste, said Winnie Gleason, a professional engineer with Fox Engineering Associates Inc. in Ames, Iowa.

“It got a lot of people’s attention, people were definitely concerned,” she said. “They were interested in starting to think more and more about conservation.”

Conservation through Greywater Reuse

One aspect of water conservation is recycling wastewater for other uses – primarily in industrial settings or for irrigation, Gleason said. Often, the biggest challenge to recycling wastewater, or greywater, is public perception that it is contaminated.

But, “if you take any sort of disgusting, nasty wastewater, take out the impurities to clean it up enough, you have drinking water,” Gleason said. “Wastewater treatment is putting the cleaning process into fast forward from nature’s process.”

While some countries have begun recycling treated wastewater back into the drinking tap, Gleason acknowledged that the U.S. won’t be using that model in the near future. Still, she said, wastewater from washing machines or showers that can be reclaimed saves more fresh potable water for drinking – such as at the Wellmark headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, where greywater is used for toilet flushing.

Gleason helped with the design and construction of a water treatment facility in Clear Lake, Iowa, which uses treated, reclaimed water to help cool a new power generation plant built by Alliant Energy.

The 550 MW power plant needs approximately 3 million gallons of cooling water a day, Gleason said, which creates a special challenge for the wastewater treatment system.

For example, the wastewater is treated in a sequencing batch reactor, which does not have continuous flow, but the plant needs to regulate its cooling water in a steady flow. So, an effluent equalization system was installed to provide the steady flow, and an ultraviolet disinfectant system makes pathogens unable to reproduce and effectively kills them.

Once the wastewater plant completes its treatment process, the greywater is equalized and pumped to the power plant. After the cooling process is complete, the water is returned to the wastewater plant to go back through equalization again.

While the final system works well, Gleason said public perception about the use of greywater will continue to be an issue to address. This includes public perception that it is “unsafe, unhealthy no matter how much you clean it up, preconceptions of what’s in it and what’s not,” she said. “If you’re going to go into greywater and reclaimed effluent, you have to be prepared to deal with some of this.”

Restoring Wetlands for Flood Control

Finding a way for residents to use excess water is another challenge for many communities, said Sarah Coulter, sustainability coordinator with the Village of Park Forest, Ill., just outside Chicago.

The second “planned” community in the U.S., Park Forest had consistent problems with flooding in many of its neighborhoods, due to the swampy land it was built on during the post-WWII construction boom. Even as many Midwest communities experienced a drought in 2012, Park Forest was dealing with flooded streets and basements.

In particular, the village’s Central Park consistently flooded after a good rainstorm, leaving the soccer and baseball fields wet for days and making it difficult to mow the grass and maintain the property in between storms.

The solution, Coulter said, was to turn the park into a wetland.

“A wetland is really basically between deep water and dry land,” Coulter said. “They have hydric soils, so plants are adapted to the water.”

The village began applying for project funding in 1999, and with the help of volunteers and other in-kind donations, now has a thriving wetland in the middle of the community. And residents are realizing numerous benefits from the new green space, Coulter said, including less street and basement flooding, stormwater filtration, recharging of the local aquifer, increased wildlife habitat and passive recreation opportunities.

“This is an outdoor classroom that over 3,000 public school children visit each year,” Coulter said. “It’s really been a fantastic way to get the kids to want to get outside. It also acts as a vehicle, when they’re investigating all these plants and animals, to tie in other sustainable water related events.”

While residents near the wetland were initially concerned about an increase in mosquitos, Coulter said that hasn’t been a problem since it also attracts more birds and other bugs that eat mosquitos.

One key consideration when planning a wetland, though, is developing a maintenance plan. For example, Coulter said, the village has a planned burn schedule for the wetland, and other procedures to address invasive species of plants that can crowd out native growth.

“A healthy wetland will continue to grow and thrive until these invasives come in,” she said. “So you want to make sure you have a management plan for that.”

And now that the Central Park wetland is established, Coulter said the village is planning new water management projects, which will include high quality wetlands.

“It’s the most eco-diversity of any other biosystem in the world,” she said. “With the pure native plants even in drought periods, they won’t grow, they’ll die, but their heritage seeds will hold in the soil and will sprout again. Even during times of drought, they will still come back and thrive.”

Andrea Hauser can be contacted at ahauser@woodwardbizmedia.com.

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