Early this month, Gina McCarthy – Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency – received a sneak-peak tour of Emory University’s new WaterHub reclamation system. In a special pre-ribbon-cutting event, Emory’s Office of Sustainability hosted Administrator McCarthy to show off the new campus-wide water reuse system. The WaterHub is expected to offset nearly 40% of total campus potable water demands. Hearing about the University’s aggressive, new approach to minimize its water footprint, the WaterHub was a must see for Administrator McCarthy.
Developed by Sustainable Water, the WaterHub is a biological wastewater treatment system that relies on adaptive ecology to treat wastewater mined directly out of the campus sewer system. The system is designed to recycle up to 400,000 gallons of water each day. Emory – a nationally recognized leader in sustainability practices – chose the WaterHub because of its low energy profile, its flexible site integration, and natural aesthetics.
The WaterHub uses hydroponic treatment technology, which mimics the way natural ecosystems treat water, but does so in a controlled, engineered environment. Within the hydroponic reactors, plants and their root system create an attractive habitat for microorgnisms that break down organic pollutants in water. During her tour, Administrator McCarthy was guided through the complete treatment process. She watched as system operators filled up jars of recycled wastewater – appearing crystal clear to the naked eye. Noticeably impressed with the system, Administrator McCarthy’s twitter and facebook accounts lit up the social media world, exclaiming “Emory’s WaterHub is a model for us all!”
After start-up is complete, a reclaimed water distribution network – nearly one mile long – will provide hundreds of thousands of gallons of recycled water daily to utility systems across campus. This spring, the first drops of reclaimed will be delivered to the campus steam plant, and three major chiller plants. At a later date, the University plans to connect select dormitories for toilet flushing and other campus utility systems to the reclaimed water distribution loop.
Ciannat Howett, director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives at Emory, sees the WaterHub as an important next step in Emory’s long-term water conservation strategy. Emory’s water management portfolio already includes low-flow fixtures, dual-flush toilets, rainwater harvesting and a building-based graywater reuse system. In a recent interview with the Emory News Center, Howett expanded on the University’s systematic approach to water management, exclaiming that:
“Atlanta relies upon the smallest watershed in the nation for a metropolitan area of its size… As a large institution, we use a lot of water and we generate a lot of wastewater. We can control that and show innovation by demonstrating smart water conservation and reclamation to the next generation and the Atlanta community. And this facility presents the perfect opportunity.”
Apart from the environmental benefits and significant reductions in utility costs, the University hopes the WaterHub will expand research capacity in multiple disciplines. Designed as a living laboratory, the WaterHub has its own built-in lab space, integrated water sampling ports, and boasts a demonstration reciprocating wetland treatment system designed to support even more research. Home to the Rollins School of Public Health and the Center for Global Safe Water, Emory has multiple academic departments gearing up for research opportunities.
Administrator McCarthy’s timely visit to the WaterHub came in the wake of the EPA unveiling its new Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center (WIRFC). Established just last month, the Finance Center seeks to promote investment in water infrastructure by expanding public–private partnerships. Ironically, Emory’s WaterHub was financed through an innovative new shared savings model called a Water Purchase Agreement – designed by Sustainable Water for a similar intent. Call it irony or call it fate, the water purchase agreement model may be just the tool the EPA needs to boost private sector investment in the water space.
For More Information, see: New WaterHub engages power of nature to clean wastewater.