October 28, 2004By HATCHER HURD
It was little fanfare — except by state and local officials — that the Cauley Creek Water Reclamation Facility doubled its waste treatment capacity to 5 million gallons per day (mgd). At a ceremony Oct. 21, Cauley Creek cut the ribbon announcing the new capacity.
Three years ago when the suburban sewer plant was trying to convince area residents the facility would be a good neighbor, it was not nearly so cut and dry.
Fulton County was in the midst of a sewer moratorium in North Fulton County and was looking at a public-private partnership with entrepreneur Ronald Green who wanted to bring "cutting-edge" technology for wastewater treatment to Georgia.
Fulton County bought the land and hired Green's Cauley Creek Water Reuse Facility to produce an initial 2.5 mgd of treated water with the provision to go to a cap of 5 mgd.
But none of that was going to occur without a good deal of public outcry and protest from area residents near the 140-acre site on Bell Road in the Shakerag community. Residents were asked to take a lot on faith, and few were willing to have a sewage treatment plant nearby and meekly accept the county's assurances people would scarcely know it was there.
In three years of operation, Green says he has not received a single complaint from Bell Road residents, and he has exceeded every state requirement put on the plant for quality control.
"And we have the strictest controls of any operation in the state," Green said.
One of the project's severest critics was Cheryl Bowlin, whose 200-year-old farmhouse is just across the road from Cauley Creek. She said for the most part, she has been pleased with the way Cauley Creek has operated.
"Ron Green and I have gotten to know each other, and he has been a good neighbor, he has worked hard to be a good neighbor," Bowlin said.
She said there have been "one or two times" when a detectable odor escaped, but Cauley Creek fixed it right away.
"And I have to admit, it does look like a farm," she said.
The two buildings on the site look like barns from the road, if they were visible from the road. A cow and a calf quietly munch the grass near the two barns. It is only when one gets closer that it becomes apparent that the cows are statues there to help create the bucolic effect.
What pleases state water quality officials however, has been Cauley Creek's innovative reuse of the "graywater" — the water after it is cleansed. Instead of putting it directly back into the Chattahoochee River, the water is sold as irrigation water to golf courses in the area through 6.5 miles of pipeline. Plans call for the irrigation line to be extended down Old Alabama Road to irrigate the Country Club of the South golf course.
Using new micro-membrane technology developed by Zenon Environmental Inc., the facility cleans the effluent so effectively, the water is cleaner going out that when it was drawn out of the Chattahoochee.
The technology was first used in Georgia by Cauley Creek, and three years later more than 100 mgd is treated by Zenon's process in this state alone. Worldwide, 1.5 billion mgd of water treated.
David Word, assistant director of the Ga. Environmental Protection Division, said improved technology for him is the gravy. What is most important to his office is the reuse of water.
"The difference for us is that Cauley Creek reuses the water. It is unique in that. We are not going to get more water from the Chattahoochee, so we are going to have to find ways to use our resources better," Word said.
"If it can happen in an upscale residential area like this, then it makes other people ask why the same thing can't be done in their area."
Reuse of the water instead of returning it directly to the Chattahoochee has other important benefits as well, said Sally Bethea, executive director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, a non-profit watchdog organization which lobbies for the protection of the river.
"This is a great example of how think creatively," said Bethea who came to sing Cauley Creek's praises and speak at its new dedication. "It is good to see Fulton County finally addressing its sewer problems."
In addition to Cauley Creek, the county is doubling the capacity of its Johns Creek wastewater treatment facility. It is building a new 15 mgd facility from the ground up on Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell using the Zenon technology.
Roswell Councilwoman Lori Henry had good words for Fulton County for going the extra mile to cooperate with the city.
"The county has been working closely with the City Council and the Planning Commission. The county is jumping through hoops it really doesn't have to. We think that showed good faith," Henry said. "We learned early on that you can put one of these [plants] in and make it look like whatever you want. We like the project from the stand point that the water goes back cleaner than it was before it was used, and the reuse."
Green said the project shows the way of the future for water treatment and reuse. He has a second private wastewater treatment facility he is building for The Manor golf community in North Fulton on the west side of Ga. 400 at Hopewell Road. It is much smaller, but it will provide irrigation for the community's golf course and homes.
"It was a paradigm shift to build this plant after the people were already living here. But today, we get visitors from all over the world to see how we do it," Green said. "We knew we not only had to have the technology, but make it fit within the community."
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