First-of-its-Kind Ecological Reuse System Recognized for Innovation

WaterHub at Emory, an ecological water reclamation treatment facility that is the first system of its kind to be installed in the US, has been named the 2015 WateReuse Innovative Project of the Year by the WateReuse Association. The award was presented last month in Seattle at the 30th Annual WateReuse Symposium. McKim & Creed served as a member of the team that planned and designed the reuse facility.

Located on the campus of Emory University near Atlanta, the WaterHub at Emory recycles approximately 400,000 gallons of water per day—about 40% of the university’s water needs—and reuses it as process make-up water in campus steam and chiller plants and for toilet flushing in selected residence halls. This reduces Emory’s draw of drinking-quality water from DeKalb County (within the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District) by up to 146 million gallons of water annually.

“McKim & Creed is honored to have been the engineering partner in this unique and innovative design-build-own-operate venture,” said Tim Baldwin, PE, who served as McKim & Creed’s manager for this project. “The WaterHub at Emory not only supplies valuable reuse water and saves money for the university, it also serves as a versatile platform for educational and research opportunities–from process to policy.” Other partners on the DBOO team include Sustainable Water, a leading provider of water reclamation and reuse solutions, and Reeves Young, an Atlanta-based commercial contracting company.

How It Works

The WaterHub at Emory treats wastewater through biomimicry technology by harnessing the power of biological processes found in nature and growing 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 treatment process begins with wastewater extracted from an on-campus sewer pipe for treatment within 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. The water is distributed to select campus locations, with some reserved in storage for emergency purposes.

Impact on Community

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 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 WaterHub at Emory in February, calling it “a model for us all.” The project has also received the CMAA Project Achievement 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.