WWTP Operator Spearheads Effort to Create Tree Farm at Plant

Trees transferred from a New York community’s botanical garden to the wastewater treatment plant will contribute to a major tree restoration project
WWTP Operator Spearheads Effort to Create Tree Farm at Plant
Leaders and volunteers prepare the saplings for planting.

Relocating more than 80 trees from the botanical gardens in North Tonawanda to create a tree farm at the wastewater treatment plant has been a win-win for this city in western New York.  

Bill Davignon, superintendent of water and wastewater, says the plant benefits because the trees enhance the landscape and shield its view from the pleasure boats passing on the Niagara River. Residents benefit because the tree farm helps extend the life of the city’s nearly 10-year-old Re-Tree program.

Species of trees such as red oak, white oak, tulip poplar, crabapple and sycamore planted in 2.5-gallon pots as saplings sat at the botanical gardens for more than a year. The problem was they were growing too fast and overcrowding the 20-acre site. “They had a space problem out there and we had some room, so were able to provide a solution that benefits everyone,” says Davignon.

Donated labor

Volunteering on a Saturday, plant operators and staff joined other city workers, all of them members of Civil Service Employee Association, to move the trees nearly 3 miles to the treatment plant. The workers transferred the saplings, now 3 feet tall, into 30-gallon pots with topsoil and planted on the site of an unused ash pit, about the size of two football fields.
The original design of the 6 mgd (average) physical-chemical process plant included the ash pit, but the pit remained unused because biosolids were never burned. The pit is now a 2-foot-deep depression to which loam and a layer of crushed stone for drainage were added to accommodate the trees.

“Another benefit is we can use our effluent to irrigate the trees,” says Davignon. “I was a chemist here for 28 years before I became superintendent, so I know the quality of the water and I know it will be ideal for the replanted trees.”

Operator’s brainchild

The idea to locate the trees at the treatment plant came from David Conti, a plant operator and a member of the city’s environmental committee. “He was the driving force for this project because he’s the one who brought the idea from his committee meeting about the space problem,” Davignon says.

For years the city has kept inventory of affordable trees available to residents, but the trees became an even higher priority in early fall 2006, when a record-breaking lake-effect snow and ice storm did damage of historic proportions in western New York. Downed power lines and the destruction caused by more than 57,000 fallen trees crippled the area for weeks.
The loss of trees changed the landscape and marked the start of Re-Tree Western New York, a citizen’s volunteer effort with a goal of replacing 30,000 trees within 10 years across 18 communities. Now that goal is at hand, but other threats are looming, such as the spread of the emerald ash borer.

Cooperative effort

Originally, trees for Re-Tree were purchased through donations and fundraisers and given to residents. The ongoing need will be met with the likes of the trees planted at the wastewater treatment plant, which were donated by Cornell University Extension and will be available to residents for a nominal fee.

Eventually a rotating stock of 150 trees will occupy the former ash pit. The plant’s security fence will protect them from deer damage. “This is a great example of interdepartmental cooperation,” says Davignon. “They had a problem and we had a solution. We’re glad we could help out.”


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