Waste Not, Want Not
Arcata Marshes Award Winning Waste Water Facility
By Jeri Vigil | Photo Meghan Quintanilla
Water: We all need it to survive. Managing the resource that sustains our lives is a job not to be taken lightly. There are many factors involved in the process of keeping our watersheds safe and clean. One major factor is how our wastewater is managed. The City of Arcata and Friends of the Arcata Marsh (FOAM) are here to help the community get educated on the award winning, internationally acclaimed wastewater facility.
Located at 569 South G St. is the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. This is the home of FOAM, Arcata’s wastewater facility, and 325 species of local and migratory birds. There is an on-site interpretive center where staff and FOAM volunteers can answer questions, as well as lead tours of the wastewater treatment plant on the last Saturday of each month (rain or shine).
The innovative system has come a long way since 1933. At the time, a 400-ft pipe was emptying into a 500-ft ditch which is now known as Butchers Mouth Slough. Contamination of oyster beds in the bay led to a parathyroid epidemic in Berkeley CA. where the oysters were sold. Although these were obvious signs of a need for an overhaul in wastewater management, it wasn’t until 1966 that chlorine was added to kill pathogens in our wastewater. In 1975 dechlorination of the water was added as a final step before releasing into the Humboldt Bay.
Let’s jump forward to 2014. The Arcata Wastewater Plant Process is on point and an international model for ecologically sound wastewater management. In a simple breakdown, the first step is Primary Treatment, which involves filtering, clarifying, and digesting waste through an elevated system. This allows the wastewater to flow to the following stages that take place in the ponds, wetlands, and marshes. Compost and methane are now viable byproducts from this first stage of conversion. The compost is used to fertilize our city parks and the methane helps produce heat for the digesters at the facility.
Secondary treatment takes place in oxidation ponds and wetlands to continue to kill pathogenic microbes. Things such as the microorganisms in the roots of native plants help to assist in the breakdown as well as enhance the water with plant-rich nutrients.
Enhancement Marshes are the final stage in the disinfecting process. The water is chlorinated and then dechlorinated before being released into the magnificent Humboldt Bay.
The Arcata Marsh is a gem! Although the forward thinkers have implemented a state of the art system for water that comes from our homes and businesses, where does the rest go? Water from rain and street runoff flows into the stormwater system directly into the Humboldt Bay. Please be aware in both these processes to use biodegradable products. Proper disposal of all chemicals is a must!
With the drought hopefully comes more awareness of things we can do to help in the preservation and conservation of our natural resources. There are things such as greywater systems or rainwater catchment to help in the process. The Beneficial Living Center is a local resource center located across from the Arcata Marsh and is offering a class on Rainwater Catchment on November 9th from 1-4 PM. They are hosting local business High Tide Permaculture Design, which is noted as Humboldt County’s leading rainwater management expert. BLC is located at 148 South G St. Arcata and can be reached at 707-633-6125.
Gretchen O’Brien, staff member for the City of Arcata and coordinator for FOAM, says volunteers are always needed. For further information give them a call at 707-826-2359 or stop by the Interpretive Center on Mondays 1-5PM or Tuesday through Sunday 9AM-5PM.