Wastewater Treatment Wetlands Project

Graduate students from UGA worked with the Sewanee, Tennessee, Utility District to design and install a constructed wetland for wastewater treatment.

Students from ecology, engineering, environmental design, and law enrolled in Laurie Fowler’s 2012 Environmental Practicum Course developed a feasibility study and conceptual design for a pilot project to determine the efficacy of constructed wetlands to treat pharmaceuticals and other emerging contaminants; their client was the Sewanee (Tennessee) Utility District. This study generated approximately $800,000 in funding from the Coca-Cola Foundation and Coca-Cola Bottling Company United as well as the Lyndhurst Foundation to construct the pilot wetlands.

A major goal of the project is to build public confidence in and awareness of constructed wetlands through a comprehensive community engagement campaign. Fowler and Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development master’s student Philipp Nussbaum conducted an initial survey in November 2015 and January 2016, as well as focus groups with local k-12 teachers and community leaders in February 2016, to understand the Sewanee community’s current knowledge and perceptions of water issues as well as the means they rely on for this information. One major outcome of this research is, for instance, the development of a project website, www.sewaneewetlands.org.

Construction of three wetland basins was completed this summer, under the direction of University of the South (Sewanee) Biology Professor Deborah McGrath and Forestry Professor Scott Torreano. The wetlands were opened to the public for the first time on Saturday, October 29, 2016. The purposes of this event, developed and overseen by Nussbaum, were to raise awareness of the project in general, to explain how the wetlands work, and to describe the water quality monitoring processes in place. Sewanee undergraduate students explained the design and function of the wetlands, answered questions from community members, and planted trees at the site. UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources master’s student Liz French offered a lesson on wetlands for children who attended the event, who then also had the opportunity to design a project mascot. Lastly, visitors were asked to provide their input on community involvement and signage at the facility.

Monitoring of the effluent of the wetlands is underway in partnership with the UGA Environmental Health Science Department’s Marsha Black.

Oct. 29, 2016, Sewanee Constructed Wetlands. Photo by Rachel Will, UGA ICON student.