VERDE VALLEY-- No one likes to talk about the toilet or where waste goes when it leaves the room...other than teenage boys.
The topic is so taboo, that we give it names to hide behind. Using the head is easier to verbalize so that we don't have to define its reason for being. Yet, for both cities, towns and unincorporated urbanized areas, the importance of disposal by the privy is so important that we spend significant sums funding the ultimate flush. It is only when we are talking budget, are we prone to speak for or against an increase or decrease in the sanitary situation.
During the past week, voters in Camp Verde had the chance to talk directly about the wash room. Did we want it as a function of the town or leave it in the hands of the district board. Many thought that, without spending a dime, the Town taking over the system would give the community stability and play into its economic development.
The small offices of the Camp Verde Sanitary District is far from the madding crowd and stands among the rolling Camp Verde hills east of town. In addition to pictures of family on the walls, there are prints by French Impressionists and some hand crafts. Tracy greets with a smile the rare visitor that arrives. You would never guess what goes on there.
Jan Grogan, who operates the system, says discussions with Town Manager Russ Martin indicate the town would operate, like most utilities, as an "enterprise" of the town. The staff and operators of the district should remain in place and the books change hands with the new fiscal year in July.
That was a genuinely smooth transition. Some transitions are not so smooth.
Old timers may remember that there was a former Sedona Wastewater District. Before that city incorporated, the district had been organized for the benefit of two subdivisions and the business district. The citizens who eventually populated its board were so afraid they would bear the cost burden of building a treatment system, they worked to prevent a sewer being established at all.
They hired an inspector-a sewer cop -- to certify that septic tanks were not failing or, if they were, that they were quickly replaced. Other citizens thought that was crazy. A private study monitored drinking water wells, a study which discovered that septics were indeed leaching and long plume of tainted water was identified flowing from east to west. After Sedona incorporated in 1989, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality gave the city marching orders: Install a wastewater system.
Grogan says all systems are either aerobic or anaerobic (with or without air) and the Camp Verde system formerly used simplistic aerated lagoons letting natural bacteria treat the waste. The system was brought back into compliance in 2008 with an expansion filters and other polishing is typically added to the basic treatment to speed the process and manage other maintenance.
The Camp Verde service district is still much smaller than the nearly 50 square mile size of the town. It reaches Davidson Circle on the west and is bounded by the White Bridge and Black Bridge. Yavapai County's wastewater is treated by the Tunlii plant of the Yavapa-Apache Nation.
Jerome has a very basic "trickling filter" system, which dates back to the 1970s. The Town of Jerome jokes that before the treatment, everyone had outhouses.
Henry McVitte is a contractor who maintains the system for the town. The system was upgraded and the capacity expanded to 70,000 gallons per minute in about 2000. For years, the treatment was able to operate without electricity, depending entirely upon gravity flow.
Everyone knows Jerome is on a mountain side and from the top of the system above the Jerome Grand Hotel to the treatment system in a canyon well below the historic cemetery is a drop of about 400 feet. That can age the system over time, "like water running through the Grand Canyon." Most systems usually have a 2-percent grade.
But McVitte added more recirculation in 2006 to get better treatment through the trickling filters. Now the system does use electricity.
"It is a much less sophisticated and simplified way to treat sewage. It has lower energy usage. But it has limitations: not using mechanical aerators to regulate your oxygen levels and no nice filtration to bring down your total suspended solids."
The effluent is eventually treated in wetland ponds using reeds to polish the effluent. "Where possible, it is a great way to polish," McVitte says.
Eventually, the treated effluent water runs through Bitter Creek for about a mile before it goes underground.
McVitte believes that eventually Jerome will need to find an alternate way to discharge effluent, since the state DEQ is getting tough on discharge into Bitter Creek, demanding treatment for nitrates and phosphorus.
He expects the plant will move to spray irrigation of re-use on grape vines, for example.
The King of Effluent Reuse may be Cottonwood, which is installing a large loop of purple pipe (for reclaimed water) to all the city's playing fields. A satellite treatment system proposed at Riverfront Park is intended to treat sewage and re-use where there are fields that need irrigation. The city is also expected to place another satellite plant on the north side of Cornville Road, where Brookfield Homes intends to expand within the city.
That Riverfront plant will also treat the effluent water for pharmaceuticals as well as nitrates. High quality treatment is much more in demand across the nation.
Wayne Debrowski heads up the system in Clarkdale. The town is counting the days until it is given the green light by the state to throw the switch on its new wastewater plant, now fully installed. Clarkdale formerly had a lagoon treatment like the early Camp Verde plant and has been planning an upgrade since the "70s. Clarkdale recently bought a system that had been used in a Pulte Homes subdivision. The plant was offered for sale when Surprise connecting the project to the city lines.
Debrowski says in addition to giving Clarkdale much-needed capacity to bring more homes on line, the new system also will give Clarkdale A+ water, a better grade of effluent that will give it re-use options including recharge, selling to contractors and irrigation. Today, the water is being discharged on 40 acres near the old smelter site.
Clarkdale will expand its 235,000 gallons per day to 350,000 gallons plant. And it can add additional "biological treatment units" to bring capacity to 1.1 million
Debrowski says treatment can occur naturally for almost anything thrown at it. Depending upon the substance, a stream cleans itself over a distance.
He has seen studies in New York about PCBs in the Hudson River from General Electric discharge. The study showed that eventually river organisms colonized in the areas around PCBs, working at cleaning up the pollutant.
Grogan says, just don't throw things down the toilet that don't belong there. She says workers at the Camp Verde plant daily collect items that don't treat or plug the system, including feminine hygiene products. Grease also gums up the mechanics.
We just haven't got the system as efficient as nature is, yet.