#ELGLKnope: Corvallis, OR vs. Athens, GA

Posted on March 3, 2021

corvallis athens

It’s time to vote in the #ELGLKnope Round of 32! Read about this matchup, and then submit your vote! One vote per email address, please. We’ll tally the votes and will post the next round of matchups on Tuesday!

Vote! Vote! Vote!


Corvallis Wastewater Reclamation Plant

Corvallis, Oregon 97333

  • Three words to describe Corvallis Wastewater Reclamation Plant: Dedicated, professional, sustainable
  • Why are you nominating Corvallis Wastewater Reclamation Plant: The City of Corvallis Wastewater Reclamation Plant is a vital community resource operated by true essential workers. The plant is part of a network of water infrastructure that meets the needs of the City of Corvallis, a community of about 58,290 people in western Oregon.
  • Anything else to share? The operators who staff the plant are a close-knit group of professionals. Together, they have embraced innovation and sustainability in their everyday work running the large wastewater plant. Recently, they challenged themselves to find energy savings equivalent to 5% of the facility’s total energy usage, which equates to approximately 223,000 kilowatt hours annually– no small feat at a facility that runs 24 hours a day and treats 4 billion gallons of water each year.

    As part of this “Treasure Hunt,” workers examined existing systems and procedures throughout the plant, asking tough questions and thinking outside the box whenever possible. In one example, an employee identified a large air compressor that was set to run automatically for about 70 hours each week to keep a set of valves pressurized. A closer examination of the system showed that the large air compressor could be replaced by a smaller unit that ran less frequently to achieve the same goal.

    Workers identified dozens of these energy saving opportunities, large and small. Some, like swapping out the air compressor, represented quick wins. Others will require more extensive work to implement, but the potential payoffs are more substantial. Some may even qualify for grants from the Energy Trust of Oregon. In all, the wastewater plant utility workers identified more than 60 potential energy savings projects representing thousands of dollars in savings.

athens ga

Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility

Athens, Georgia 30605

  • Three words to describe Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility: Indispensable, Poopular, Sparkling
  • Why are you nominating Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility: I write to nominate the Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Athens, GA.  I hope my story below explains why I believe this location is worthy of competing for the #ELGLKnope Award.

    The threatening weather could have played perfectly into the scheduled Halloween-themed Trick or Treatment event.  However, we decided the drizzling, wet, and foggy conditions were not ideal for a Cedar Creek Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) tour.  We sent word of the last-minute cancellation along with our regrets to the registered tour participants. 

    As I approached the facility gate to head home, I saw a waiting car.  Perhaps someone who hadn’t received the news of the cancellation?  I rolled down my window to find a young knight, Spiderman, and their parents in the other vehicle.  They had not gotten the message about our need to postpone. 

    Per the Halloween tour instructions, the boys had dressed in costume, ready for their visit. The parents’ eyes pleaded with me as they explained how their oldest son was always asking what happens to the water after he flushes the toilet.  They had promised to show him the path of his poop.  As if on cue, the rain stopped.  Not wanting to be one who disappoints, I offered to go ahead with the tour so these curious boys could solve the mystery of the flush.

    I introduced the family to Cedar Creek WRF, the smallest of three such facilities in Athens, GA.  Cedar Creek WRF rests on 40 acres nestled within a larger 500-acre wooded area.  We recently installed a solar array on an open grassy field to offset energy costs and meet the local government’s ambitious green energy goals.  I shared with my guests that we often hire sheep – yes, the wooly kind – to come in and mow beneath the solar panels.  Lawnmowers can throw rocks and break the panel glass; goats chew the necessary wires and tend to jump on top of the array.  Sheep are who “ewe” want for the job.

    We followed along the treatment train that almost 2 million gallons of collected water flow every day.  At the band screens, a ghost floated nearby.  This particular apparition was a “ghost” made of past flushable wipes, a tour decoration still waiting to haunt.  The knight and Spiderman stopped for a photo while learning about the importance of the 4 Ps of Flushing:  Only Pee, Poo, Paper, & Puke go down the toilet.

    I explained to my guests that Cedar Creek WRF relies on a return-activated sludge treatment process.  Our operators create the perfect environment for billions of microorganisms to flourish. These little buggers remove the contaminants from the water.  With so many decomposers on-site, including the fantastic water bears, Cedar Creek WRF is a favorite annual school visit for hundreds of fourth and fifth graders learning about beneficial microorganisms firsthand.  Since the pandemic has suspended tours, we created a video tour to virtually introduce classrooms and others to the concept of water reclamation.  Rather than cancel our very poopular annual Valentines’ Day Romantic Tour of the WRF due to COVID restrictions, we were able to adapt and use the video for an online event this year. 

    The sludge/biosolids removed from the process first go to the dewatering building, then travel to a compost production area and get mixed with leaves and limbs to create compost.  Residents can purchase the compost for use in their flower gardens.  The tour guests were surprised to see that the biosolids resemble plain ol’ dirt.

    We climbed the ladder to the top of the clarifying basin where the sludge settles, then carefully crossed over the million gallons of water held in the 18 ft. deep tanks without the need for Spiderman’s web-slinging abilities.  Next, we walked to the ultraviolet lights, the final step in the treatment process.  After UV disinfection, the water cascades over a series of stairs to add oxygen back to the water before returning to the source to flow to the next community who will pull it for drinking water.  And with that, the knight’s burning question as to what happens after he flushed was answered.   

    Cedar Creek WRF isn’t unique in the way it treats the water it collects.  You find this same treatment process in hundreds of other facilities across the nation.  What makes this location different is how it engages with the community.  This quaint facility’s small size makes it an ideal place for a quick tour, with over 3,000 people taking advantage of this opportunity.  Solar panels, sheep, a tour video, coloring books, on-location social media posts, public tours, and the occasional tootsie roll parting gift following a tour are a few ways Cedar Creek engages and differentiates itself from the competition.

    At Cedar Creek, we avoid using the term “wastewater” with the public, for it doesn’t accurately describe the work done here.  Yes, we remove waste from the water collected, but we do not waste a drop of water.  Our facility recognizes water is too important to waste, so we hesitate to combine the two words.  And despite our facility’s public perception, including that of our Halloween tour guests, the solid waste, aka poop, makes up a fraction of what is in the water received.  We stress this concept to the public, choosing to focus on our finished product, clean water. 

    What truly makes Cedar Creek WRF extraordinary is the staff. Working from home was not an option in response to the pandemic.  Someone was/is on hand 24/7, making the WRF operators work the definition of an essential service.  They protect our water, public health, environment, community, and those living downstream.  Stopping is not an option.  I hope you accept my nomination for Cedar Creek WRF into the March bracket competition.  We look forward to having another outlet to showcase our work and share the story of how water impacts every corner of Athens, GA.
  • Anything else to share? I think of this facility as one of the Seven Wonders of Athens, GA.  Thank you for considering this gem for the brackets.
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