Loganville 101 students tour water treatment facility

LAWRENCEVILLE - In the third of four Loganville 101 classes, a citizen education series offered for the first time, students were treated to an eye-opening tour of the city's state-of-the-art water treatment facility. "This facility won plant of the year for 5-million-gallon-and-under plants," said Jimmy Lazenby, a class II wastewater operator for the city.

"There's no such thing as pure water," Lazenby said. "It can be real clean, maybe distilled or processed by reverse osmosis, but even clear water out of an unpolluted stream is not pure. It will have ground minerals in it that occur naturally."

The Wednesday night tour guided students through the facility's labs and sophisticated monitoring areas. "The water here is monitored and tested all the time - 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The EPD (Environmental Protection Division) strictly regulates testing parameters and even the number of staff we have here," Lazenby said.

As the plant grows in capacities, the staff will increase accordingly.

Computers in the main building on the site offer aerial views of the 1 million gallon tanks and even operate the pumps. If anything should go wrong, the computers call plant workers any time day or night. If at any time the water that is released into Big Flat Creek doesn't meet the EPD's guidelines, the plant is fined. "It's never happened once since I've been here," Lazenby said.

One fact that students were surprised to learn is that the Loganville facility processes no drinking water. The city buys all of its potable water from Walton and Gwinnett counties - 900,000 gallons a day from Walton and 50,000 gallons a day from Gwinnett. The entire plant is dedicated to releasing clean water back into the environment.

"It used to be that the solution to pollution was dilution," Lazenby said. Years ago, sewage was released directly into streams and rivers, and the sand and rocks would filter pollutants naturally downstream. Obviously, that approach backfired as evidenced by the Chattahoochee River pollution that is still being cleaned up years later.

"Now, we have to put water back into the creek that is at least as clean as it was when it came out," Lazenby said. Water flow from the facility must run seven days a week, 24 hours a day. If not, the backup would be disastrous, flowing out manholes and flooding surrounding areas.

Another fact that interested students is that, in the rare occurrence that a batch of water is determined to be unsuitable for release back into the creek, it's rerouted for irrigation of the site's fields. Solids separated from untreated water early in the cleaning process are made available to farmers as a Class B fertilizer through a government program. Even hay grown on the site is cut and sold for $2 a bale. "We don't do that to make a profit, just to pretty much break even," Lazenby said. The entire process from start to finish is based on recycling, efficiency and no waste.

Students were given the opportunity at the end of the tour to test processed water for chlorine levels. "We're allowed no more than a level of .012," lab manager David Ayers said. He purposely upped the chlorine in the test water samples to demonstrate the bright pink chemical reaction in water that has too much chlorine.

One student, who used to live in Rockdale County, asked why the water there and in some other cities smells of chlorine.

"Too little chlorine in drinking water can result in something called blue baby syndrome,'" Lazenby said. "Some cities leave slightly higher levels of chlorine just to make sure that doesn't become a problem."

The newest addition to the site, currently under construction, is a stormwater treatment facility.

Lisa Varner, a student in this pilot class and a resident of Loganville said, "We just moved here a year ago, and these classes have been really interesting."

City officials are hoping to make the classes a twice-a-year offering if demand warrants. Councilman Chuck Bagley spearheaded the effort to create the Loganville 101 series, and city staff have been instrumental in contributing to the material and coordinating the effort.