Here's How to Make a Treatment Plant an Appealing Sight for Neighbors

A berm richly adorned with desert plantings and boulders hides a Nevada wastewater treatment plant from view.

Here's How to Make a Treatment Plant an Appealing Sight for Neighbors

The Southwest Water Reclamation Facility. St. Rose Parkway is on the right, and a neighboring residential area is in the background.

Even though its 20-acre site is nearly surrounded by houses, the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility in Henderson, Nevada, is nearly invisible to neighbors and passersby.

The site presents a 35-foot high berm, landscaped to blend into the surrounding countryside of sloping mountains, stones and boulders, and vegetation typical of the Mojave Desert. “Some of the newer homes have been built to within 300 yards of the side gate of the plant and around the back side of the berm,” says Howard Analla, wastewater operations manager in charge of the city’s two wastewater treatment plants.

The berm, which cost nearly $1 million, was the first thing built when construction of the state-of-the-art facility began in 2008. “The whole idea was to block the view from the outside world during construction, then hide the facility once it was done,” Analla says.

Bursts of color

Now the berm displays a colorful palette of lush native plants, bushes, shrubs, stones and ground cover, visible to the outside world and to plant operators and staff. The administration building is low-profile, and all process structures are totally enclosed. Some are underground.

More than 2,000 shrubs, 320 trees, 200 succulents and cacti, and nearly 225 boulders are carefully located on and around the berm. Together, they create a startling landscape of natural beauty that hides the operations of the membrane bioreactor facility. Combined with underground or enclosed biofilters, UV disinfection and granular carbon canisters for odor control, the 8 mgd (design) plant functions with most citizens not knowing it’s there.

“It isn’t one of the best wastewater plants to give a tour in because you are always saying, ‘Behind that wall, this is what’s happening,’” Analla says. “Visitors can’t see or smell the operation, and that is what we wanted.”

The vegetation is arranged in rows and evenly spaced. Native species such as desert spoon and desert cassia, red hesperaloe, trailing indigo, gold lantana, and Rio Bravo and thunder cloud sage were all planted as full and bushy shrubs. More than 160 red-tipped ocotillo bushes, each 6 feet tall, are included in the mix.

Desert display

“Considering we get less than 7 inches of rainfall each year, the principles of xeriscape landscaping were considered in the design,” Analla says. “We do have an irrigation system for the berm, but our water use is very low.” Trees such as thornless mesquite, Rio Salado desert willow, shoestring Acacia, desert museum Palo Verde and purple Texas mountain laurel were all 5 to 9 feet tall when planted.

Large and colorful landscape boulders, with names like Mojave gold, mineral park gold and Sedona, and palomino coral add visual balance to the landscape. Twenty-two gold and tan cleaved sandstone boulders are strategically placed throughout. Contours and slight undulations define the berm. Vegetation is separated by areas of ground cover made from decomposed granite and rock.

An attractive wrought iron fence protects the front of the facility, which abuts a city park and a popular multiuse trail that meanders through the landscape and provides a buffer to the homes across the street. As an added feature, bollard lights illuminate the trail and highlight an architectural stone retaining wall that passes in front of the facility. The berm is maintained by the city Parks Department. 

Consulting the public

Before the plant was built, public meetings were held with a neighborhood advisory committee to solicit input and build support for the project. “It was a good relationship and had a lot of participation that led to the acceptance of the facility,” Analla says. “Key concerns were noise, odors, aesthetics, traffic and chemicals.

“One of the professors at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose students now do research at the facility, said he drove by the place for almost two years and didn’t know it was a wastewater treatment plant. That’s pretty good hiding, I’d say.”


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