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Sewage Treatment Needs Might Bring Bill Increase

Joe Schoenmann

Ultraviolet light is used to treat wastewater so it can be returned to Lake Mead.

Every time you flush the toilet, wash your hands, or get your car washed, that water gurgles through more than 2,000 miles of pipes, ending up in what some people just call “the sewer plant.”

But the Clark County Water Reclamation District is more than $1 billion worth of technology on 700 acres in the eastern Las Vegas valley.

Far from the sewer settling ponds some people might remember from the small towns they grew up in before moving to Las Vegas, the Reclamation District is something of a technological wonder.

And the plant needs upgrading, maintenance and more room to meet the growing needs of Clark County. Right now, the household cost for water reclamation is about 61 cents per day. 

"Which is really a value, if you consider we can safely collect the community’s wastewater, have it travel through our 2,100 miles of pipeline, come to our facilities, where we highly treat it and we produce that clean water that goes back into the lake that really extends our community’s water resource,” said Julie Chadburn, the district’s compliance and regulatory affairs administrator. 

By the end of the year, Chadburn said a more comprehensive plan about how to improve and expand the plant, including potential rate hikes, will have been worked out.

The efforts to reclaim water in Southern Nevada are vital because returning water to the lake means we get a bigger share of Colorado River water.

LeAnna Risso, the district's process control manager, said there are very strict rules about how that water is returned. She said the county and the cities in Southern Nevada work together to make sure the water is as clean as possible.

Risso says the reclamation district treats about 105 million gallons a day as an annual average. The highest flow months are during the summer.

Despite that effort, there are somethings that water users flush that cause trouble on Risso's end of the water system, specifically putting so-called flushable wipes down the toilet.

Jars at the water reclamation center show how wipes and facial tissues do not break down in water/Photo credit: Joe Schoenmann 

“Even though they say flushable, they’re not really biodegradable and they do create problems in our collection system,” Risso said.

She said they ball up and create large masses that clog pipes and cause havoc in the plant's collection system.

Besides the jars of items that don't break down in water, the plant is home to fish - tiny, mosquito-eating fish.

Chadburn said the fish are taken by Clark County Vector Control and put into bodies of water - like abandoned pools - to eat insect larvae to prevent mosquitos.

Fish raised at the plant go on to be used to control mosquito populations/Photo credit: Joe Schoenmann

The tiny fish aren't the only innovative way the plant is using biology to help the community. The plant works to create bio-filters to not only clean the water but also prevent odors.

Chadburn explained that the plant creates filter environments using lava rock and tree bark that encourages certain microorganisms to grow and those organisms actually eat the chemicals that create an odor.

LeAnna Risso, Process Control Manager, Clark County Water Reclamation District; Julie Chadburn, Compliance and Regulatory Affairs Administrator, Clark County Water Reclamation District 

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.