By Charles Mosley, Public Works Director/City Engineer
Why was the 27-acre Sedona Wetlands Preserve constructed?
Sedona AZ (May 8, 2013) Many may be surprised to learn that the primary purpose of the Sedona Wetlands Preserve is not recreation. The wetlands were constructed as part of a process to increase the treatment plant’s ability to manage larger amounts of effluent. Effluent is the cleaned and disinfected water that remains at the end of the wastewater treatment process. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality does not allow unrestricted contact with this water. This is the reason there are signs around the wetlands telling people not to use the water.
The wetlands are part of the effluent management project. Currently, the City produces about 1.1 million to 1.2 million gallons of effluent per day. That amount could eventually reach 2.0 million gallons per day. As designed and operated, the current effluent management system has a limitation of about 1.4 million gallons per day. Recognizing that the research and development process for increasing this capacity could take many years, in 2006, the City employed the firm of Burgess and Niple to investigate various approaches.
The City Council approved investigation of the use of wetlands and injection wells on the current plant site. The firm of Carollo Engineers was employed to conduct the investigation and make recommendations about the minimum amount of wetlands and injection needed for a 2.0 million gallon effluent management process.
Carollo advised that developing the information needed to make the recommendation would require constructing trial wetlands and a trial injection well. They also advised that information from the trial systems and the currently used spray irrigation system would need to be collected, in order to develop a model to determine how to manage the effluent.
Construction of the Sedona Wetlands Preserve began in October of 2011 and was complete by July 2012. It cost almost two million dollars to design and construct. The Wetlands Preserve is primarily a 27-acre trial to determine what can be expected when using wetlands for managing effluent. Records are being kept to determine how much water disposal can be expected from wetlands in the plant area.
Developing the wetlands as a park was done to maximize the benefits of the facility. By allowing the area to be used as a park, the City creates an eco-tourist attraction for Sedona. The 2010 final report by the City Council-appointed Wastewater Effluent Disposal and Land Use Task Force (WEDLU) noted: “The 2007 Verde Valley Tourism Survey, conducted by the Arizona Office of Tourism, identified that wildlife watching ranked on a par with visiting art galleries and jeep tours among preferred activities for visitors to Sedona and the Verde Valley.”
The City is beginning development of the trial injection well. This is about one year behind the schedule contained in the WEDLU report. The information from this trial will allow the preparation of the model to determine the best combination of wetlands, injection, and spray irrigation to manage the effluent. The City is anticipating contracting for development of the model within the next year.
At two million dollars and counting, the sewer plant Wetlands is an expensive “experiment” for taxpayers to shoulder. The original Corolla report stated that the Wetlands would produce -0- effluent gain – yet City Council went ahead and voted to fund this white elephant – and City Engineer, Charles Mosley has been scrambling to make it into something that makes sense ever since.
Bottom line is the property never perked to begin with – thus a need for injection wells. Trying to find an ‘upside’ to this bottomless effluent pit, by calling it a “wildlife refuge”, “Wetlands Preserve” and a “tourist draw” makes as much sense as Mayor Adams touting the property as a future “entertainment venue.” Any bird watcher will tell you that human interaction disturbs the migration and nesting of birds. And “sewer smells” usually preclude the ‘nesting’ of humans – no matter how exciting the entertainment draw. Mr. Mosely, Mayor Adams and the City Council can call the Wetlands/Sewer Plant anything they like. What they should be calling it is, “a poor decision with expensive consequences.”
Run the experiment. Just don’t sugar coat it by trying to make it something it’s not. If it works it must work on it’s own.
I am amused when I read the statement that the City produces about 1.2 million gallons of effluent a day and may go to 2.0. They have been saying this for several years now and since there are no plans to expand the sewer to the entire City, contrary to original statements, why keep saying it may go to 2.0 million gallons or more. Many plans made and much money spent, remember the big storage ponds, the ones that leaked. Where are they?
Let’s see if I understand this.
“The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality does not allow unrestricted contact with this water. This is the reason there are signs around the wetlands telling people not to use the water.”
Now the City is spending major dollars to drill a trial test well and inject this water directly into the aquifer.
So the water is not safe to touch, but it is OK to drink ?
Great news. In addition to not knowing how much wastewater disposal can be expected, the City doesn’t know if injection will work.
What is the need for this experiment? Previously there were basins where the “new” ones are now located. I birded the treatment twice with the local Audubon Society years ago.
Instead of maintaining the original basins, City Hall allowed vegetation to take over. Then cows were brought in to woof down the plant life. Next came the dozers. Didn’t City Staff “sell” this unjustifiable mess to our clueless City Council?
Sooooooo, how many tens of millions will the work at the WWTP cost when all is said and done?