Within days of Earth-Day, Emory University officially unveiled its new campus water reclamation and reuse facility. In spite of the weather, the WaterHub ribbon-cutting ceremony was well attended – attracting over 250 people. As the first eco-engineered water reclamation facility of its kind, representatives of sustainability groups, congressional offices, regional universities and local institutions all attended the special event.
During the dedication ceremony, remarks from a number of stakeholders, praised the University for addressing regional water issues in such a significant manner. Over the last two decades, Atlanta has witnessed numerous water-related stresses, including: severe drought, EPA mandates to resolve critical infrastructure failures and an extended political dispute over water rights in the so-called “Tri-State Water Wars.”
During the commencement, Douglas Hooker (Executive Director, Atlanta Regional Commission) remarked, “The region has committed to a very robust plan for water conservation, water efficiency and reuse. This project clearly demonstrates how recycling our treated wastewater and appropriately reusing it will extend our resilience and free up water for future generations and other beneficial purposes.” He went on to say, “This WaterHub will shine as a model for other universities, other governments, and commercial campuses to replicate. The benefits of this project are not theoretical or abstract, they’re very real, very measurable, and they’re very immediate. Leaving no doubt of the direct beneficial impact that sustainable practices can have on our water systems.”
The WaterHub at Emory will reduce total campus water usage by nearly 40%. The facility will recycle up to 400,000 gallons of water each day by mining wastewater directly from the campus sewer system, and re-purposing it for a variety of beneficial uses on campus. A 4,400 linear foot “purple pipe” distribution system will deliver clean water to campus utility plants for cooling tower and boiler makeup, as well as select dormitories for toilet flushing. The system will reduce campus water consumption by more than 100 million gallons of potable water annually, and reduce campus sewer discharge by approximately two-thirds.
Sustainable Water—the project developer—designed the WaterHub utilizing a natural treatment approach, which could be integrated directly into the existing campus framework. The system is built on two small parcels near Chappell Park baseball field. It showcases a greenhouse-based hydroponic technology as well as an outdoor, engineered wetland. In all, the facility comprises only 4,500 square feet on two sites considered undevelopable by the University.
The WaterHub is supported by solar (PV) energy production and includes 50,000 gallons of clean water storage capacity, providing N+1 redundancy for campus district energy systems. The system is designed in a way to promote research and community outreach, enhancing the concept of the campus as a “living laboratory.”
With built-in lab space and easy access ports for water quality testing, the facility enables research in a variety of topics. Gloria Sclar, a current graduate student at the Rollins School of Public Health, was part of initial research initiatives undertaken – partially by students – during facility development. Gloria spoke at the commencement ceremony, and encouraged future students to use the WaterHub as a “tool to make those applied connections to their coursework.”
Sustainable Water will operate the plant on behalf of the University. Through reductions in water use and campus discharge, the WaterHub will save the University tens of millions of dollars and billions of gallons of water over the next 20 years. Speaking at the end of the commencement ceremony, James Wagner (President, Emory University) summarized the project as “exemplifying how we as a society can take a more intelligent and responsible path toward stewardship of natural resources, for the good of each other.”