Yellow River Water Reclamation plant
Officials discuss the upgrades and expansion at the Yellow River Water Reclamation plant in Lilburn.
LILBURN -- The process is more efficient; the standards are higher; the water is cleaner. Even the smell is better.
That is what comes from a $245 million project to redesign one of Gwinnett's oldest sewage plants.
Work is wrapping up at the Yellow River Water Reclamation Facility, after years of designing and building a bigger, better, greener facility to treat sewage for much of southern Gwinnett.
Coming in a year ahead of schedule and under the original $250 million budget, Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources' Adam Minchey said, the project has been the best in his 22 years with the county.
"With everyone on the same side of the table, we all worked together on solutions," he said of the construction-management-at risk bid the county established to have engineers and construction crews work alongside each other for years to get the work done.
In fact, the county department won the Georgia American Society of Civil Engineers Project of the Year for the job.
"Everything's new," Minchey said, showing off a new operations building that achieved LEED gold standards from the U.S. Green Building Council.Decades in the makingGwinnett's sewer system was developed like a patchwork quilt.
Decades ago, developers, or sometimes whole cities, decided to create a small sewer plant and pipes, allowing more homes or businesses than the old septic system used for more rural areas.
As the county grew, so did its water and sewer system, causing Gwinnett's government to buy many of these smaller systems to tie into the larger quilt.
By the end of the century, water officials knew the best way to strengthen the network was to close the smaller, older plants, but to do that millions had to be spent to update and expand the bigger ones.
That lead to the $245 million project to rebuild the Yellow River facility, located on Tom Smith Road.
Preparations began in earnest in 2003, when staff began meeting with contractors and working on permits for the expansion, which has allowed the 14.5 million gallon per day plant to expand to 22 million gallons a day.
A designer moved on site in 2006, and the project was soon under way.
Minchey pointed out that the work had to be done in stages to keep sewer service intact to much of southern Gwinnett, while being sure to keep disruptions to surrounding homeowners at a minimum.
"I am pleased that the Yellow River plant expansion has gone so smoothly, with no negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods," said Water and Sewer Authority Chairman Michael Sullivan, who lives near the plant. "But I am even more pleased about the cost savings that will benefit Gwinnett ratepayers, as we are able to eliminate the expense of maintaining several outdated treatment plants by consolidating that treatment at the new and improved Yellow River facility."Eliminating wasteAll while managing the huge Yellow River project, the county wrapped up the daily operations at the smaller plants, even building a three-mile, $60 million tunnel to pump effluent from the defunct No Business Creek plant in Snellville. The county has also closed plants at Jackson Creek, Beaver Ruin, Jacks Creek, and Big Haynes Creek, all of which discharge in the Yellow River basin.
The closing of the six plants means $2.4 million in operational savings each year, plus a reduction in staff by 29. But Minchey noted that the savings are actually much higher because all of the plants required millions in upgrades to continue to clean effluent to the required standards.
"It's not a net increase in flows to the Yellow River, but it's cleaner," he said.
Instead of starting over from scratch, the revamped plant has some age on it, but the technology is top of the line, using membrane bioreactors to "eat" the organic material in the sewage before chemicals are added.
The technology was in its "infancy" when the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center was built in northern Gwinnett, Minchey said, but it worked so well that the county is working to use it across Gwinnett.
When work wraps up at the end of the year on landscaping and paving at the Lilburn facility, Minchey will turn to a $212 million revamp of the Crooked Creek Water Reclamation Facility, a 16 million gallons-per-day plant which will take on the new MBR technology that the others have employed.
"We learned some things at Hill that we could do better here, and hopefully we can do better there," he said.