Living Color

Ornamental plantings help a Georgia treatment plant create eye appeal for visitors and for motorists on a major highway.
Living Color
Views from around the treatment facility, as well as the ponds, wetlands, and distribution canal.

The JB Messerly Water Pollution Control Plant stretches for more than a mile along a major thoroughfare into the City of Augusta, Ga. It's also next to the area's largest airport and is one of the first things visitors see when they arrive in town.

"It didn't make the most favorable impression," says Allen Saxon, assistant director of water and waste. So when a major upgrade and conversion from conventional activated sludge to the modified Ludzack-Ettinger process was planned in 2010, the city budgeted funds to landscape the area between the plant and the roadway.

Colorful plantings

A local contractor strategically planted colorful azaleas, purple coneflower, yellow-flowered lance-leaved coreopsis, white oakleaf hydrangea, big blue monkey grass and American beautyberries. Crepe myrtle and other shrubs joined the mix, all layer-planted on a low, rolling berm along the entire length of the plant.

Species with similar watering needs were clustered to simplify irrigation and maintenance. Ground cover and mulch complement sod laid along the right-of-way, which varies from 20 to 100 feet wide. "It's a non-industrial look that catches the eye," Saxon says. "It was all part of the strategy."

The plan was not to disguise the plant (46.1 mgd design) but to put eye-catching features in front that deflect attention. "It has really been an effective approach," says Saxon. And thanks to a Georgia Department of Transportation grant, an additional $50,000 was available to extend the landscaping to a nearby intersection, where cars sit at a stoplight with the plant in full view.

Wetland treatment

Of even greater pride to the city and its wastewater facility contract operator, ESG Operations, is 360 acres of constructed wetlands that provide tertiary treatment. Built between 1990 and 2003, the wetlands are part of the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, a 1,100-acre preserve that serves as headquarters, laboratory and visitor center for the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy.

Consisting of twelve 30-acre cells with an effluent holding time of seven days, the wetlands are included in the nature park's trail system. With free access to the public from sunrise to sunset, more than eight miles of improved trails with foot bridges and observation decks allow viewing of all kinds of wildlife. Alligators, beavers, turtles and frogs are commonly seen, as are migrating waterfowl, birds of prey, egrets and blue herons.

ESG project manager Paul Tickerhoof says the wetlands began as a pilot study of tertiary treatment inspired by Jorge Jimenez, principal of a local consulting firm, Zel Engineers. Jimenez saw a similar installation at a treatment plant he visited while vacationing in Florida. Upon his return, he convinced Augusta officials that the process would benefit the JB Messerly plant.

"The initial wetland had only four cells with equalization ponds and a distribution canal designed for future expansion," says Tickerhoof. "Based on results of the pilot study of about three years, we installed the additional eight cells and a polishing pond."

Public tours

ESG assistant project manger Percy Nolan says that through a partnership with the Academy, a nonprofit committed to environmental sustainability of the 314-mile Savannah River, the plant hosts more than 60 tours each year for the general public, Boy Scout troops, teacher workshop attendees and students. "They get to see the nature park and treatment plant from a total watershed approach," he says.

The goal is to educate the community about the beauty of nature and the value of responsible environmental stewardship. Nolan observes, "We take a lot of pride in our facility and in what we do. We wanted the plant and the streetscape to reflect that pride."


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