Forested Land Application System Draws 170 Species of Birds

The nation’s Carpet Capital is also home to an extensive effluent land application site that doubles as a haven for birds and wildlife.
Forested Land Application System Draws 170 Species of Birds
An annual duck hunt for youths is held at the land application site, sponsored by Dalton Utilities with Ducks Unlimited and the Dalton Chapter of Safari Club International.

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At least once each year, members of the Audubon Society in northwest Georgia visit a protected forested site to conduct a bird count. Over the years, they have seen more than 170 species there.

A large population of hawks, wild turkeys, coyotes, ducks, deer and other wildlife also call the site home. The big draw is the forested habitat of the 9,800-acre land application system (LAS) maintained by Dalton Utilities.

Developed in 1984, the LAS is forested with loblolly and longleaf pine, black oak, ash, box elder, eastern swamp cottonwood, American elm, sweetgum and many other trees, along with shrubs and grasses typical of northern Georgia. Nearly 19,000 spray heads irrigate the forest with the effluent from two identical 20.8 mgd (design) activated sludge treatment plants.

Extensive operation

“This is one the largest forested land application sites in the country,” says Don Johnson, director of watershed operations. “It’s nearly 13 miles from our entrance gate to the back of the property. It is a remarkable facility.”

Three pumping stations, each with two Patterson pumps, deliver effluent through ductile iron and polyethylene pipe to 76 spray fields. Impact-style spray heads are mounted on 3-foot risers, and each delivers effluent over a 60-foot diameter. Flow to the LAS is monitored by operators who take samples and continually inspect the fields for potential problems.

Johnson says the original LAS had 3-inch aluminum pipe, 10-foot risers and fixed spray heads with a reach of only 10 feet. They were replaced and upgraded during a major redesign and expansion in 1999 that has made the facility into what it is today. To maintain the integrity of the system, trees on the LAS are selectively harvested and replanted in-house. “We do it to protect the LAS from a typical logging operation,” Johnson says.

Beneficial reuse

Dalton, known as the Carpet Capital of the World, is still home to the greatest number of floor-covering manufacturers in the nation, despite a downsizing of the industry during the economic turndown in 2008. Maximum influent flow from the many carpet manufacturers occurs on weekdays. To balance that flow to the LAS, a 170-acre reservoir was built to store effluent to be distributed to the LAS on weekends.

“We are a zero-discharge facility,” Johnson says. “So we are always looking for ways to extend the life of the LAS. In 2002, Dalton Utilities rebuilt its 20 mgd Riverbend Road Wastewater Treatment Plant to mirror the technology used in its existing Looper’s Bend plant at the site. On that same site two years earlier, Duke Energy built four combined-cycle electric power plants to generate 1,240 MW. The facility is now owned by Oglethorpe Power.

“They can use up to 12 mgd of effluent from our two plants in their cooling towers,” Johnson says. “It’s one of the largest water reuse projects in Georgia and it allowed them to build a power plant without having to obtain a water withdrawal permit.”

Open for hunting

Beneficial reuse at the treatment facilities includes a composting operation that can produce up to 100 tons each day. Biosolids are run through a centrifuge, combined with wood waste, composted for 14 days, and then placed in windrows on site for up to six months. A private firm markets and distributes the compost to landscape contractors.

Nearly 230 miles of paved and gravel roadways meander through the LAS. Public access is restricted except for tours, birdwatching, and special hunts for duck and deer. In 2001, Dalton Utilities, with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, started a quota hunt to help control the deer population.

In 2004, turkey hunts were added, and in 2011 a youth duck hunt began. Applicants submit a 1,500-word essay about their hunting experience and desire to hunt, and are chosen at random. In 2013, in cooperation with Ducks Unlimited and Safari Club International, the event was expanded to include a Wounded Warrior Duck Hunt.

“Opening this area for controlled hunts and conducting tours for students and the community helps us illustrate what an environmentally sound operation we have at the LAS,” says Lori McDaniel, utility spokesperson. “People get to walk out there and see for themselves what a beautiful pristine forest it is. That’s some of the best public relations you can generate.”


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