Getting the Hands Dirty

It doesn’t take grandiose plans or outsized budgets to spruce up treatment plant grounds — as some ambitious operators have proven

We often read about big new clean-water plants surrounded by acres and acres of ponds, pathways and wildlife habitat. Such projects are often the product of high-dollar engineering and landscape architecture firms, put to work as part of capital improvement programs with vast budgets.

But here and there, around the country, treatment plant teams are proving it doesn’t take all that to make their grounds more beautiful, more sustainable, and more friendly to birds, fish and wildlife.

All it really takes is some energy, some dedication, some ingenuity, and a little creative scrounging. Two small-town treatment plants highlighted recently in our “PlantScapes” column prove the point.


Artistic tendencies

Last month we featured the 3 mgd treatment plant in Perry, Ga., where assistant plant manager Chad McMurrian got the ball rolling by painting a canvas showing the main operations building. It was the creative spark that led to creation of a nature walk for plant team members and the public.

The project came together little by little as team members found the time and as materials became available. Today a 200-yard-long trail 15 feet to 25 feet wide wraps its way through magnolias, oaks, birches and maples to the plant’s receiving stream, Big Indian Creek.

There’s a deer feeder with a motion-activated wildlife camera, a tire swing for kids, some duck houses and, perhaps best of all, a pond with goldfish and koi, fed by final effluent on its way to the creek.

The team spent no money on materials or labor. Everything came from scavenged items or donations, and volunteers did all the work. Now the staff leads tours of the area for the public and students as part of its clean-water education initiatives.


Better with age?

Meanwhile in Clifton, Colo. (see the story in this issue), the team at the 2.5 mgd clean-water plant transformed a former biosolids lagoon site into a wildlife habitat and a sustainable agricultural area that includes a vineyard. Nearly four acres are producing grapes, and another 10 acres may be added. The grapes are harvested and processed into wine by a local vintner. Money from sale of the grapes helps offset maintenance costs.

Other land is planted with upland tall grasses, trees and shrubs to establish a sustainable habitat with a variety of species, including ducks and pheasants. This project was more complicated — it relied on grants from various sources, along with labor from inmates at a minimum-security correctional institute.

But extensive volunteer labor was involved, and that included landscaping work on the part of the treatment plant team. In the words of plant manager Brian Woods, “If you want something bad enough, you’ll see that it gets done.”


Can you do it?

Now, these two efforts are in many ways exceptional. The projects took a lot of work and a lot of time, and it’s easy to see why operators at many plants would shy away from such endeavors. They put their all into their regular duties, and they want to spend their spare time with their families and personal recreation choices.

On the other hand, the clean-water profession tends to attract people who care about the environment, and that includes their plant surroundings. So, what is it worth to make that treatment plant look like something more than a few rectangular and circular structures at the end of a road on the fringe of town?

Maybe it’s a sign with ornamental plantings around it. Perhaps a “birdscaped” property with strategically placed feeders and suet bags and perennial plants that in winter provide seeds favored by birds.

Even if you lack the energy or people power to emulate teams like those in Perry and Clifton, surely there is something you can do. Every little bit does in fact help. Feel free to share stories about PlantScaping work you have done — big projects or small. We’ll be glad to share your accomplishments with TPO readers. Send me a note to editor@tpo, and I promise to respond.


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