By Vice Mayor Cliff Hamilton
Sedona AZ (January 24, 2012) – Phase 1 development of Sedona’s constructed wetlands is underway at the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. Their primary purpose is to increase the amount of treated effluent that can be disbursed on the fixed amount of land the city owns five miles west of town. The wetlands will also become Sedona’s newest park facility.
Sedona residents and visitors will one day be able to use the 27 acres of new ponds and marshes for wildlife viewing recreation. This new facility will also transform some of our treated effluent from a liability to a useful resource.
Constructed wetlands for wastewater disbursal is a proven technology other Arizona cities have used for over 40 years. Show Low was first, beginning in 1970. Pinetop-Lakeside followed in 1980. Since then, cities including Tucson, Sierra Vista, Springerville, Gilbert and Kingman have followed suit.
Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside are similar to Sedona in a number of ways and our results should mirror their very successful wetlands experience. All three cities are near the same elevation, are similar in climate, process similar amounts of effluent each day and have tourism-based economies which results in a similar effluent make up.
The current construction is the first step in using wetlands technology and additional phases may follow along with direct injection of treated effluent into the deep aquifer to increase effluent dispersal capacity. Sprinkler irrigation will remain our primary disbursement method for some time while injection wells and wetlands are evaluated.
In addition, Sedona is upgrading the quality of our treated effluent from B+ to A+. This higher treatment level will achieve an effluent that is truly clear and odorless. Those visiting the new wetlands would likely not be aware the water was treated effluent except for the proximity to our treatment plant.
Avid birders know the best places to see the largest varieties of birds are at city wastewater plants. These facilities provide an attractive oasis for all wildlife in our desert climate, even without being designed to do so. Over 140 different bird species have been sighted already at Sedona’s wastewater plant even before wetlands construction began. The new wetlands will offer a wider variety of habitat by providing varying water depths and native plantings, which will increase wildlife use.
People have asked recently if there are really that many birders and other wildlife watchers around to make the investment in a parking area, restrooms and trails worthwhile. The short answer is a resounding yes! Bird watching is currently the fastest growing and second largest form of outdoor recreation in the country. In Arizona, the number of birders exceeds the number of golfers and the gap is widening. Only gardening tops birding among outdoor recreational pursuits.
Sedona’s Parks and Recreation Department will manage public use of the wetlands while the city’s Public Works Department manages wastewater disbursement. Birders and other wildlife-viewing enthusiasts will soon be walking the trails around the ponds looking for their favorite species, possibly by the end of the summer.
The information and opinions provided here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Sedona City Council or the city staff.
I birded the WW Treatment Plant twice with the local Audubon Society some years ago. Besides the main treatment pond area there were about three overflow ponds adjacent to Hwy 89A. City Hall failed to maintain these overflow ponds, so vegetation took over and they soon filled in with weeds. The overflow ponds were in the location of the “new” wetlands under construction.
One problem that cropped up was that the police shooting range was moved from FS land just north of Jordan Road to the WW plant. We birders were eventually told we could no longer drive into the area we originally used for parking because there might be shooting taking place nearby. So today we have the City of Sedona Police Shooting Range, which the Cottonwood PD uses, at our WW Treatment Plant.
And now we are getting [re]constructed wetlands for birding which require an effluent upgrade to A+, with injection wells coming soon. How much will the tab be when all is said and done? I estimate well over $30 million. No wonder we sewer ratepayers have ten years worth of WW fee increases coming down the pike that, no doubt, are only the beginning.