Gwinnett County leaders have long praised the F. Wayne Hill Water Treatment Plant in Buford for the clean water it produces every day.
They gathered at plant with environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr. on Wednesday to praise the facility for something else it will now begin putting out — fertilizer.
The dignitaries cut a green ribbon to open the plant’s new 12,000-square-foot Ostara Nutrient Recovery Facility. The building will take minerals and chemicals, mainly phosphorous, used in the cleaning process and turn it into pellets which can be used to help plants grow in gardens and on farms.
“What you’re creating here is really a miracle product that is going to help us not only prevent discharges of phosphorous directly from this facility, but also from farms and gardens all over the state,” said Kennedy, a member of Ostara’s board of directors. “It’s going to tremendously reduce Georgia’s, and Gwinnett County’s, carbon footprint.”
The facility is Ostara’s eighth nutrient recovery facility in the world. Gwinnett County Water Resources Deputy Director of Facilities Jeff Boss said it will be the largest of those operations though because of the massive amounts of water the Hill plant can treat and send to Lake Lanier each day.
The facility already known in water treatment circle for using biological and membrane processes to clean used water before sending it back to Lake Lanier. The nutrient recovery facility will give it another reason to be known for its approach to water treatment.
“We’re mighty proud of this plant and we just keep adding new things to it that make it better and better,” Gwinnett County commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said. “As all of you may know, this is one of the most advanced facilities of its kind anywhere in the world and we’re here to celebrate the addition of one other finishing touch that adds a totally different aspect to the plant.”
Ostara will pay the county about $255,704 per year for 10 years to take the phosphorous and other chemicals from the water at the plant and turn it on-site into a slow-release fertilizer called Crystal Green that it will sell to the public.
“We’re producing about a ton-and-a-half per day right now,” Boss said.
Boss said the addition of nutrient recovery facility produces a detour of sorts for the minerals and chemicals which had previously formed pipe-clogging struvite. That buildup caused a “maintenance nightmare” for crews and reduced efficiency and water flow.
He explained phosphorous, magnesium and ammonia are removed from the water that comes out of the biological processes used to remove solid waste byproducts created at the plant. The chemicals are sent to the Ostara facility for processing into the fertilizers
“This is where we’re creating the struvite now,” Boss said. “These are the generators.”
#That is key when it comes to the health of Lake Lanier.
“One fact that people leave out a lot of times is that Lake Lanier holds 65 percent of the storage for the entire Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola basin,” Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District Chairman Boyd Austin Jr., said. “We’re not just talking about water supply locally, or for greater Atlanta area.
“It’s 65 percent of the water supply for the entire area, all the way to the outlet in Apalachicola Bay (in Florida).”
Kennedy said phosphorous in water has made Lake Lanier “an impaired water body” by causing algae blooms that produce afla toxins. When it’s mixed with chlorine, it can also produce cancer-causing chemicals, he said.
“It’s not just bad for fish, it’s also bad for human health,” Kennedy said.
Gwinnett County Commission Tommy Hunter said he saw the new facility as a conservation move by the county because it finds positive uses for the byproducts of the treatment process rather than letting it flow into Lake Lanier.
“We’ve got a lot of things here to be proud of (such as) parks, roads, schools, lots of things, good people, everything we talk about to be proud of, but if we don’t have … sustainable water, then none of that matters,” Hunter said.
Kennedy said the company was attracted to the Hill plant because of Gwinnett County’s approach to water treatment.
“Gwinnett County has been a visionary in terms of investing in the best technology at this plant for a long time,” Kennedy said. “They were one of the first plants we demonstrated the technology to because we knew they were interested in state-of-the-art (processes).”
Austin said Gwinnett’s involvement made sense though.
“It was no surprise at all when I heard that Gwinnett County was right there on the leading edge of finding a way to generate revenue and also to save some money by selling a byproduct that we had to take out of the water anyway,” he said.