The first thing you probably notice about the city of Cottonwood Riverfront Water Reclamation Facility is its appearance: It looks less like a wastewater treatment plant and more like a recreation facility.
It’s no coincidence of design meeting function, according to Cottonwood Regulatory Compliance, Safety and Education Administrator Debbie Breitkreutz.
Instead, it is a clear message from the city to its community members: “We want you to care. Across the U.S., people are building educational wastewater facilities .... Come take a tour. Get to know the facility. It’s a phenomenal process. It’s fascinating.”
The RWRF is set for completion around Sunday, July 1, according to Cottonwood Utilities Manager Roger Biggs, but already he and Breitkreutz are on tours.
Self-described “wastewater nerds,” they are aware that the subject is a tough sell to the public. Misconceptions about the process, both added, are common.
“It’s not toilet to sink,” Biggs said, adding that for Cottonwood the reclamation process — which, in the RWRF’s case means intercepting approximately 20 percent of existing effluent flows and producing A+ quality reclaimed water for Riverfront Park irrigation and injection below groundwater sources — is a way to reuse and bank water for the future.
By placing the water below ground, natural processes will eventually cycle it back to consumers.
“We’ve realized we’re in a very closed system. That water we drink is below our feet,” Biggs said, but added that reclaimed water injected into the ground acts as a reserve for the future and may not be used for a century or more.
According to Biggs, the nearly $13-million facility increases efficiency of the original water treatment facility at Mingus and reduces pumping costs. Solar panels will produce approximately 80 percent of the power necessary to run the facility, equaling approximately $70,000 per year in savings during the 15-year payback period.
It’s a big savings, Biggs added, especially when you take into account the Mingus facility’s $20,000 monthly power bill. Breitkreutz said that Cottonwood has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to water conservation, investing early in systems that assure 70 percent of water from sewer users is reclaimed and resourced.
“That’s an extraordinary number,” Biggs added. “That’s something we should be really proud of.”
The new facility, Breitkreutz said, is automated to the degree that the current facilities staff can handle its operation. During most days only one city employee will work at the RWRF — and that person will only visit for a four-hour shift. The vast majority of RWRF’s needs can be met from the Mingus facility, including remotely shutting down systems.
Biggs said the facility’s opening date is a “soft” one because Cottonwood needs to ensure it is processing reclaimed water properly.
“We’re not winging it,” Bigg’s said. “It’s a very precise process.” Breitkreutz agreed, adding, “We must work very closely with regulatory agencies.”
For more information, visit cottonwoodaz.gov/478/Wastewater-Division.