Emory University Launches WaterHub – an Innovative Water Conservation System

In April 2015, Emory University launched the first WaterHub system in the country – an eco-engineered facility that uses plants and colonies of “hungry” microorganisms to recycle up to 400,000 gallons-per-day (GPD) for the campus. This innovative on-site water re-use system will provide nearly 90 percent of Emory’s utility water needs and 40 percent of the campus’ overall water demand — leaving more water for one of the smallest watersheds for a metro-area of its size in the country.

Introduced at 2011 TUFF Summit

The WaterHub concept was first introduced by Jonathan Lanciani, CEO of Sustainable Water, at the TUFF Summit in 2011. “Emory is a leader in sustainability,” says Matthew Early, Emory’s vice president for Campus Services. “With this facility, we’re taking a major step forward in becoming one of the first in the nation with this technology for cleaning our own wastewater, which will make it possible for Emory to save tens of millions of gallons of potable water every year.”

According to Emory, wastewater cleaned by the WaterHub is used as process make-up water in Emory’s steam and chiller plants and for future toilet flushing in select residence halls. The system will reduce Emory’s draw of water from metro-Atlanta’s municipal water supply by up to 146 million gallons of water annually.

WaterHub was made possible by an innovative water purchase agreement between Emory University; Sustainable Water, provider of the water reclamation technology; and Reeves Young, an Atlanta-based commercial contractor. The WaterHub creates lower cost water at a long-term stable rate and is expected to save millions of dollars in water utility costs to Emory over a 20-year period. The WaterHub aligns with the University’s vision for a sustainable campus and reduces the overall water demand on one of the smallest municipal watersheds in the United States.

Alignment of University and Regional Goals

According to the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Executive Director, Doug Hooker, “The region has committed to a very robust plan for water conservation, water efficiency and reuse. This project clearly demonstrates how recycling our treated wastewater and appropriately reusing it will extend our resilience and free up water for future generations and other beneficial purposes.”

“This is a first of its kind facility in North America. It exemplifies how we as a society can take a more intelligent and responsible path to stewardship of natural resources” claims Jim Wagner, Emory University President.

Innovative Water Reclamation

Sustainable Water, provider of the water reclamation technology, maintains that the WaterHub at Emory is an adaptive ecological water reclamation system designed to treat domestic sanitary sewage for beneficial reuse. Wastewater is mined from an 18” sewer line near the lower site and then pumped to the upper site where it enters a rotating drum screen before entering the moving-bed bioreactor (MBBR) system. The process design combines submerged fixed-film hydroponic reactors with a MBBR as an initial treatment step. After primary treatment, water passes through a small clarifier, a disk filter, and a dual-stage disinfection system consisting of ultraviolet (UV) light and an oxidizing agent (chlorine).

The hydroponic reactors utilize plants and their root systems to mimic and maximize natural treatment efficiencies associated with oxygen diffusion and habitat creation. Below the root zone is an artificial media, called BioWeb, that extends the submerged fixed-film surface area for higher levels of microbial incubation. The system is designed to provide a high hydraulic throughput with a small physical footprint, and low energy demands. Along with outdoor hydroponic reactors, the lower site also boasts a small 5,000 GPD reciprocating wetland system, which is used by the University for demonstrative and research purposes.

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