Clean and Beautiful

A treatment wetland system will enhance water quality around the Oregon community of Forest Grove, while expanding opportunities for birders and nature observers.
Clean and Beautiful

When Clean Water Services wanted to expand wastewater treatment capacity in the West Basin portion of its service area in Oregon, officials estimated the cost at $30 million.

However, with the vision and collaborative planning of professionals in several departments, the agency met the capacity goal, saved $18 million, and improved the community appeal of the treatment facility in Forest Grove.

“By building a natural system to do our final treatment, we saved millions of dollars and enhanced a prized community asset at the same time,” says Bill Gulacy, plant manager of the Forest Grove Facility. The 90 acres of constructed natural wetland is part of the existing 748-acre Fernhill Wetlands, owned by Clean Water Services. Already a world-renowned destination for birdwatchers and nature lovers, it is designed to cool and remove nutrients from up to 18 mgd of effluent before discharge into the Tualatin River.

Aesthetic amenities

Gulacy says that more than 1,000 tons of carefully selected and strategically placed boulders create re-aeration waterfalls in channels that direct effluent through the 2-acre Lower Treatment Wetlands. Two 40- by 8-foot arched bridges made of Douglas fir complement the placement of many 30-year old contorted pines and more than 500 other trees and shrubs, planted to create a water garden at the direction of Hoichi Kurisu, president and principal designer of Portland’s Kurisu International.

More than 25,000 native plants, chosen for their ability to provide the target 80 percent cover for cooling, have been planted in the Lower Treatment Wetland. After the plants are established, effluent from the Forest Grove Facility will be introduced into the new wetland. “It is a unique opportunity for us to plant native species to match the habitat and enhance the way it fits into the landscape,” says project manager John Dummer. “We are fitting treatment into the context of the watershed and making it an amenity for the public.”

To make way for the new wetland, more than 2 acres of asphalt were removed. Future plans call for reshaping and enhancement of one 50-acre and two 20-acre sewage lagoons to improve habitat and provide additional treatment. The existing lagoons were decommissioned when the plant was built in the 1980s and have become a natural draw to birds and wildlife.

Metals filtration

Another innovative approach to treatment is the planned development of about 2 acres of underground filters using peat or compost. As water passes over the media, positively charged metal ions in the water will attach to the media. “The entire project involving the wetlands is a work-in-progress,” says Gulacy.

Until the natural treatment wetlands are complete, the Forest Grove plant operates only about half of the time. During the dry season, it is not permitted to discharge to the Tualatin River. Instead, effluent is pumped 17 miles to the Clean Water Services Rock Creek Facility for final treatment and discharge.

When the treatment wetlands are complete, the plant will operate all year. In the meantime, introductory flows from the Rock Creek Facility will help the wetland plants become established.

Although plant operators are not moving earth or planting the trees and shrubs, operator Dave Storkel says they are playing a big part in the project by controlling effluent flow between the two plants and releasing Class A reuse water into the wetlands as needed. “When it’s all done, it is going to be very aesthetically pleasing and functional,” he says.

Embraced by locals

Community support for the project is widespread. The wetlands will expand opportunities for birders and nature lovers, and more hiking trails and benches will be built. In 2012, a restroom and picnic area were added near the public parking lot. The nonprofit Fernhill Wetlands Council plans to construct a learning center at the site to serve as an interpretive guide for visitors and as a research center for students at local schools and the nearby Pacific University.

Gulacy says that future plans include using the Class A reuse water to irrigate crops, such as native straw to use for erosion control. Construction sequencing and scheduling will adjust to funding, regulatory permits and the life cycles of birds that nest in the area. Says Dummer, “The idea is to make it into an area not only to clean the water, but also an area people want to visit.”


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