WWTP Facility ensures Lake Lanier water is safe

WWTP Facility ensures Lake Lanier water is safe

lake lanier water testingDecades ago, a controversial idea made waves on the shores of Georgia's favorite recreation lake. Could Gwinnett County use Lake Lanier as part of its sewer system?

The fast growing Gwinnett County had to stop growing, or find a place to send its waste water. The answer --which was supported by state and federal regulators but opposed by terrified Lake Lanier lovers -- was to hold Gwinnett to the very highest treatment standards for waste water. When the pipes opened, the test began.

Today, seven years after Georgia said yes, the Lake Lanier Association is saying yes, too. Volunteers sample the blue waters in 25 places on the lake, finding little or no change in critical lake quality outcomes from the days before the Wayne Hill Water Resource Center sent 30 million gallons of treated waste water into the lake every day.

The plant itself is a quiet marvel of technology and maintenance. Holding tanks squat on the horizon at the first sight of the Wayne Hill Water Resource Center, in the Y between I-85 and I-985, near the Mall of Georgia.

Inside a quiet laboratory, water samples are checked every six hours, four times a day, to meet state and federal standards for releasing waste water into the Chattahoochee River at Lake Lanier.

Deputy Director Rebecca Shelton has waste water in her blood. That's her joke. Four generations of plumbers in the family means she knows her pipes.

She knows her good bugs -- amoebas and water bears by name that eat the bad bugs -- and the settling ponds beloved by birds.

The water is forced through a final filter of slender membranes, the most advanced treatment in Georgia. Along the way, it also makes back some of the cost to clean it.

Shelton tips a handful of the fertilizer into her palm. Light-weight little spheres scatter between her fingers. She sells it wholesale to large scale users, like turf farmers, to keep Gwinnett County from actually having to run a retail fertilizer store.

"This is phosphorus, nitrogen and magnesium. It is great fertilizer activated by roots of the plants, not something that just washes off in the rain."

In fact, Rain water is less clean than this by the time it gets to Lake Lanier. In the final outflow testing room, transparent water fills a test beaker. Invited to test it by drinking some, Shelton declines., but she does offer a thoughtful answer.

"The difference between this and drinking water is we don't put chlorine in this, right? So drinking water has chlorine to make sure no bacteria can grow. Here, we're trying to make something that fish can live in, right?"

She's right. The pipe carrying those 30 million gallons a day delivers it about a mile off the shore, near Shoal Creek at the Gwinnett-Hall County line. Very close to where Gwinnett withdraws water from the lake to supply thirsty customers across the county.