The Brightwater facility will treat 36 million gallons of sewage and wastewater every day and serve close to 200,000 people, mostly in Snohomish County.
2,700 tons of biosolids will be produced each year - to be used as fertilizer on wheat and hops in Eastern Washington and on some forests in the Western part of the state. Reclaimed water from the plant will be made available to golf courses and other facilities nearby.
Brightwater has been described by some as the “Cadillac” of wastewater treatment.
(Take a tour of the Brightwater facility. Video by Katie Campbell/EarthFix.)
Gunars Sreibers, the project manager for the facility, explains why. He pulls out a long panel made up of hundreds of tiny white plastic tubes. They look like pieces of spaghetti, but they’re hollow, Sreibers says, “That has a vacuum on it so it pulls the water into one of these pieces of spaghetti.”
Dirty water is sucked through tiny pores on these white tubes. But “tiny” might be an understatement. 2,000 of these pores would fit within the width of a human hair. Water passes through freely, but pollutants like bacteria and viruses do not.
There are 160 panels like this in use at the Brightwater facility, Sreibers explains. “We have millions and millions of these strands of fiber out there and these really are the workhorse of the treatment process, the technology that produces this very clean wastewater that we discharge into Puget Sound.”
The Brightwater plant is the largest Membrane Bioreactor Facility in the world. This technology has been used in Europe and elsewhere in the United States. It’s cutting edge, but as tiny as those pores are, they’re not getting rid of everything.
Rob Duff, manager of the environmental assessment program at Washington’s Department of Ecology, says some chemicals still get through. Even the newest wastewater treatment technology isn’t capable of removing pesticides or pharmaceuticals, which show up in waterways around the country.
“Antibiotics, other drugs, things that we use every day in significant quantities,” adds Duff. “So we see them in the wastewater and less of them as the wastewater gets treated.”
Research by the Department of Ecology found levels of antibiotics in wastewater decreased after going through the Brightwater treatment plant, but Duff says there’s more to solving this problem.
“We can’t just rely on the end of the pipe solution to reduce what we dump into the environment through wastewater. We really have to look up the pipe as well.”
The Department of Ecology supports drug take-back programs that provide an alternative to flushing pharmaceuticals and recommends looking for alternatives to pesticides whenever possible.
Once the sewage and wastewater is treated at Brightwater it will be piped a mile out into Puget Sound and released 600 feet below the surface of the water. The Department of Ecology is responsible for monitoring the outflow to make sure it meets water quality standards.
Congrats to David James for his winning submission, 'Annabella smelling the Balsam.'
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