Senior housing development has innovative sewer system

Rex Lukinich of Greenbank Metalworks dismounts from the new sewer plant in Freeland as he prepares to take a break from assembling the facility. - Jim Larsen
Rex Lukinich of Greenbank Metalworks dismounts from the new sewer plant in Freeland as he prepares to take a break from assembling the facility.
— image credit: Jim Larsen

Think of it as a sewer system without the waste. Wasted water, that is. Two weeks ago, a huge, truck-mounted crane started putting together the pieces of a self-contained sewage treatment plant at a Freeland senior housing development.

The plant, which works like a cross between a septic system and the full-size plants owned by the Holmes Harbor Sewer District and the city of Langley, is the first on South Whidbey that will reuse treated water in the homes of people it serves instead of pumping the water into Puget Sound. People won’t drink the water; instead it will be used in toilets and for outdoor watering.

Working at the Newman Road senior housing development being built by Freeland businessman Erl Bangston, treatment plant builders from Stonebridge Construction lowered two huge, metal sewage tanks and large filtering and treatment modules onto a concrete pad near the road edge. Later this year, the modules should begin cleaning the first sewage water runoff from the development, which will eventually contain more than 40 seniors-only townhouses and an assisted living facility.

The compact plant is the right solution, said Jerry Stonebridge, from the standpoints of both efficiency and cost. Once it starts operating, it will not require the miles of piping a citywide system does.

“Central sewer systems are too expensive to build,” he said.

Treated wastewater will also recharge the local aquifer even as the residents in the housing area draw water from the development’s well. Once the first residents move into the housing development, water treated at the plant will be used in the community's toilets and to water lawns and gardens. Last year, the state Department of Health approved the system and gave Bangston a go-ahead with his development.

To find out how well the treatment plant works, Bangston said he needs to move some people into his townhouses.

"You need that brown stuff first," he said.

Bill Riley, owner of the company that sold Bangston the treatment plant, said compact plants that recycle water are becoming more common in small Washington communities. Not only do a number of private developments in King County use the systems sold by his company, but the city of Yelm does as well.

The plant his company installed in Freeland cleans water much like any other treatment plant. It separates solids from the water in a large storage tank, then uses microbes to process or eat anything that does not settle out of the water. After that, the water trickles through a sand filter, then is sent out to toilets, sprinklers and garden hoses. The sludge must be pumped out of the plant periodically, Riley said, much like with a septic tank.

Riley said the process yields high-quality water without the need for the large settling ponds used at most treatment plants.

"This is as close as you can get to the state-of-the-art for a small community," he said.

Toxic chemicals such as chlorine and heavy metals like silver and lead will also get caught in the sewer plant, Riley said.

Bangston estimates that the first residents at his community should be able to move in by the end of the year. If he or another developer expands the community in the future, the sewer plant can also be enlarged.

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