McKim & Creed, Inc. has won an Engineering Excellence Grand Award for its role in the design/build/own/operation of a first-of-its-kind ecological water reclamation treatment facility at Emory University in Atlanta.
The WaterHub at Emory recycles approximately 400,000 gallons of water per day, or about 40 percent of the university’s water needs. This reduces Emory’s draw of drinking-quality water from the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District by up to 146 million gallons of water annually.
The award was presented by the American Council of Engineering Companies of North Carolina at its annual Engineering Excellence Awards Gala, held in Raleigh, North Carolina on November 5. The Grand Award was the top award given in the Water Resources category.
Tim Baldwin, PE, senior vice president of McKim & Creed, accepted the award on behalf of McKim & Creed, Emory University and the designer/builder team of Sustainable Water, LLC and Reeves Young. McKim & Creed served as the team engineer.
“McKim & Creed is honored to have been a part of such a unique project and partnership, and is proud that this project not only fulfills its purpose of cutting water use by nearly 40 percent and reducing demand on water-stressed Metro Atlanta, but also serves as a living laboratory for students at Emory University,” said John Lucey, PE, president and CEO of McKim & Creed.
Jim Wagner, president of Emory University, has said the WaterHub at Emory “exemplifies how we as a society can take a more intelligent and responsible path to stewardship of our natural resources, for the good of each other.”
How the Technology Works
The WaterHub at Emory treats wastewater through biomimicry technology. Harnessing the power of biological processes found in nature, the WaterHub intensively grows beneficial bacteria and microorganisms in natural ecosystems. The ecosystems treat large quantities of water in small spaces within short periods of time, in a small footprint, and using low amounts of energy. The reclaimed water is then used as process make-up water in Emory’s steam and chiller plants and for future toilet flushing in select residence halls.
The treatment process begins with wastewater that is sourced from an on-campus sewer pipe and into the WaterHub glasshouse. This greenhouse-like structure contains a series of interconnected, sequentially operated, cascading hydroponic biohabitats. Water is circulated through aerobic, anoxic and anaerobic chambers which contain specially engineered, free-moving plastic pellets or engineered fixed-in-place textile in addition to suspended plant roots. The pellets, textile and plant roots serve as a natural habitat for 2,000-3,000 different microorganisms and form a unique ecosystem that breaks down waste.
From the glasshouse, the water travels to outdoor hydroponic treatment tanks for further processing, and is then filtered and disinfected with ultraviolet (UV) light. A portion of the water is stored in a reuse tank for emergency use while the remainder is distributed to select campus locations.
The system is designed to promote research and community outreach, enhancing the concept of the campus as a “living laboratory.” With built-in lab space and easy access ports for water quality testing, the facility enables research in a variety of topics, and includes a demonstration reciprocating wetland system as a showcase to visitors interested in other sustainable treatment technologies. “The WaterHub was vital to our coursework,” said Gloria Scar, a graduate student and research assistant who performed research on WaterHub.
The WaterHub at Emory is expected to save millions of dollars in water utility costs to Emory over a 20-year period. Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, toured the facility in February, calling it “a model for us all.” In addition to ACEC/NC’s Engineering Excellence Grand Award, the project has received the CMAA Project Achievement Award, the WateReuse Innovative Project of the Year award, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Atlanta E3 Awards program (liquid assets category).
Emory University is a top-tier institution recognized for its medical school and various professional programs, as well as its commitment to environmental sustainability. Nearly 15,000 students attend the university. The Metro Water District includes 15 counties and 92 cities in the Atlanta region, and promotes some of the most aggressive water conservation efforts in the U.S., according to the organization’s website.