Utah State University-Moab Sustainable Communities Extension Director Dr. Roslynn Brain demonstrates how graywater is distributed into graded basins filled with mulch as it discharges from her home's laundry area, shower and bath, and kitchen sink. The nutrient-filled water is suitable for irrigating landscapes, including edible plants with woody stems, like fruit trees. By turning a simple valve in an access box in her laundry closet, she can divert the graywater to the city sewage treatment plant when the soil is frozen, or if she needs to use bleach or other chemicals unsuitable for irrigation. [Photo by Lara Gale / Moab Sun News]

As work toward increasing regional sewage treatment capacity continues, local officials and technical experts are moving forward with innovative solutions to improve efficiency.

After months of consulting, research and public hearings, Moab City Council members voted unanimously this month to approve the Moab Wastewater Treatment Plan, establishing the new facility as a regional plant for the city and Spanish Valley.

They also voted unanimously to amend the city’s municipal code with new amounts for sewer impact fees, and to authorize the issuance of bonds to finance most of the cost of constructing the new facility.

In addition, the council approved an interlocal agreement with the Spanish Valley Water and Sewer Improvement District, establishing the $11 million plant as a regional treatment facility.

“This is huge,” Moab City Mayor Dave Sakrison said

As a stipulation for purchasing the bonds to finance the project, the state specifically demanded that the new wastewater treatment plant be funded and built as a regional treatment plant to serve the city, Grand County and San Juan County, Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency Manager Art Wollenweber said.

“A joint wastewater collection system between (Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency) and San Juan County is the only cost-effective solution,” he said.

At a special meeting on Thursday, Nov. 10, the Spanish Valley Water and Sewer Improvement District (SVWSID) board voted to approve the interlocal agreement, which establishes the financial and technical details of the district’s expected contribution to the construction and future use of the new plant.

The moratorium on new commercial sewer hook-ups passed by Moab City Council last week applies to the SVWSID, and there will be no treatment capacity available for San Juan County until the new plant is up and running, Wollenweber said. New infrastructure, including wider pipes at the south end of town, will be installed as the new treatment plant is constructed.

“Eventually, San Juan County’s wastewater flows will flow through GWSSA pipes on its way to the new regional treatment plant,” he said.

The approved sewer impact fees, which apply to new construction, are designed to help pay off the bonds financing the new plant, according to the language of the ordinance.

The base impact fee for an Equivalent Residential Unit, or ERU, will be $1,448, and impact fees for other types of construction are based on that amount. A rental unit with two bedrooms or more and a separate kitchen is considered 1.2 ERUs, and incurs a slightly higher impact fee, while a simple hotel or motel room, is considered 0.78 of an ERU, and will incur a slightly lower impact fee.

Interim solutions as the new plant is built

In the meantime, sewage from existing connections continues to flow into the nearly 65-year-old plant at the end of 400 North. Moab City Wastewater Treatment Plant Lead Operator Greg Fosse continues his operating, maintenance and testing routine to keep the plant in compliance at maximum capacity.

While the city awaits the conclusion of environmental studies to permit construction of the new facility, engineers are finalizing the design. The city hopes to receive bids and break ground in early spring 2017, and expects construction to take between 18 and 24 months.

The new plant will utilize the most advanced technology available, Fosse said, reducing water usage by nearly 95 percent and producing effluent clean enough to be discharged into the nearby Matheson Wetlands Preserve.

“Believe me, I have put some hard work into this place,” he said, referring to the existing plant that he has managed for 14 years. “But it’s like I’ve said to Mayor Dave – I’m out of miracles.”

The Nature Conservancy has not decided whether treated wastewater will be allowed to discharge into the preserve, Moab City Engineer Phillip Bowman said at the city council’s Nov. 8 meeting. Effluent from the current plant contains chlorine and bypasses the preserve to dump directly into the Colorado River.

The new plant will utilize ultraviolet light sanitization, a chemical-free process that produces effluents safe enough to use for irrigation, and for recirculation in the plant itself. About three-quarters of the water used by the plant will be available for the wetlands, if The Nature Conservancy finds it suitable.

“There’s potential for the wetlands to double in size,” Fosse said. “We could see wildlife we haven’t seen here in years.”

Irrigation is the primary benefit of another new technology which may soon be more widely implemented at residences upstream, Canyonlands Watershed Council Executive Director and permaculture designer Jeff Adams said.

Early this month, state officials approved Utah’s first residential graywater system at the newly constructed home of Dr. Roslynn Brain in the Mulberry Grove neighborhood.

Adams designed the graywater system, which he demonstrated to a gathering of visiting health officials from across the state late last month.

Graywater systems divert “safe” wastewater, drained from a home’s laundry area and bathtub, to disperse on-site underground, where soils and plants convert the waste and water to nutrients.

“I’m a lazy gardener, so this is awesome,” Brain said.

In the mulch-filled basin in front of her house where her graywater system discharges, two cherry trees and a nectarine and peach tree are thriving, along with a currant bush and local native soil stabilizers and pollinator attractors. The sole source of irrigation is the graywater, she said.

The director of Utah State University-Moab’s Sustainable Communities Extension office, Brain said elements like the graywater system in her home are where her work and life come together.

“My main drive was environmental,” Brain said.

Her entire home was designed and constructed incorporating renewable resources wherever possible, she added.

Key to the approval of the graywater system was the support of Southeastern Utah District Health Department Environmental Health Scientist Orion Rogers, Brain said.

He understood when she approached him in 2014 that the state regulations were prohibitive, and she said he worked with her, Adams and fellow local permaculture designer Jeremy Lynch to demonstrate to state regulatory health officials that a simple residential system can meet the intent of the code.

Brain’s system is permitted as a pilot, and the state has allowed six such pilot systems as it evaluates changes to the official code, Rogers said.

He encourages home builders interested in graywater system installation to have their plumber stub out the system during initial construction. The labor savings over later retrofitting make it well worth the investment, especially because he anticipates adoption of the new code to allow systems to be permitted as early as next year.

The solution to pollution is dilution, Fosse said, and graywater systems won’t help him at the current plant. For now, the main problem he faces is treating highly concentrated waste, so otherwise beneficial technologies like graywater systems and low-flow toilets actually exacerbate the problem. However, he added, when the new plant comes online, it will process waste streams of any concentration.

Interlocal agreement with Spanish Valley district signed, state’s first residential graywater system permitted

Believe me, I have put some hard work into this place. But it’s like I’ve said to Mayor Dave (Sakrison) – I’m out of miracles.