Huang’s Gwinnett County water reuse project could be a ‘game changer’ for water utilities

Friday, August 7, 2015

Gwinnett County has attracted research funding from the WateReuse Research Foundation to test the feasibility and economics of using an ozone-biologically active filtration treatment process to produce drinking water directly from reclaimed water. Members of the project leadership team pose after county commissioners approved the project August 5. From left to right. Professor Ching-Hua Huang; Denise Funk, co-principal investigator and operations technical services director with Gwinnett’s Department of Water Resources; Kati Bell from CDM Smith; and Ron Seibenhener, Gwinnett’s director of water resources. (Photo Courtesy of Gwinnett County.)

A metro Atlanta county is joining with School of Civil and Environmental Engineering researchers and engineering firm CDM Smith on a water reuse project that could be a model for other communities around the country.

Gwinnett County commissioners formally approved the project August 5. The idea is to study if it’s possible to clean wastewater well enough to drink it without putting back into Lake Lanier first. The process is called direct potable reuse, and officials said it could help them conserve water without reducing usage.

“This could be a real game changer,” Gwinnett’s director of water resources, Ron Seibenhener, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July. “Even if it doesn’t prove to be the solution, it could be the start of different paths to get to that solution. We want to make it safe, reliable and cheap.”

Professor Ching-Hua Huang and two graduate students will study whether a process called ozone-biologically active filtration can clean wastewater enough to meet high drinking-water quality standards. They’ll use a pilot plant that will be built at one the county’s existing water facilities, and they’ll conduct advanced water-sample analysis.

If the treatment process works, it could significantly change the economics of direct potable reuse, Huang said.

She said the project is critically important to water utilities because it has the potential reduce cost and eliminate concentrated waste streams that are generated using current filtration and cleaning processes.

“This project will allow water utilities to evaluate water-supply options to decrease their dependence on lake or river withdrawals,” said Denise Funk with the county’s Department of Water Resources. “High-quality reclaimed water is not subject to changes in rainfall, eutrophication, chemical spills, or algae blooms.”

Read more about the project in the Gwinnett Daily Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.