Where does water go after you flush?
Out of sight and out of mind, wastewater in the Upstate travels miles through pipes and pump stations to reach the treatment plant at Renewable Water Resources. The wastewater is then transformed into reusable water.
Unlike roads and power lines that can be seen, wastewater infrastructure remains unseen. But, it’s in no way unimportant to our community’s economic development.
“Wastewater is kind of the one thing that people really don’t give much of a thought until you flush your toilet and it suddenly, magically disappears,” ReWa CEO Graham Rich says. “I say it’s a miracle every time you flush because it travels a long, long distance.”
With the sewer industry changing much in the last 10 years, Rich says ReWa does more than treat wastewater to get it out of sight. Certain constituents are extracted out of the wastewater to be used to generate power, the treated effluent becomes irrigation water, and the biosolids become fertilizer.
“Just on the other end of the process, you’ve got a glass of water that looks like it came out of the tap,” Rich says. “It’s truly an amazing process.”
Whether it’s wastewater from washing laundry or taking a shower, we all generate waste that has to go somewhere. “Hopefully, if we’re doing our job right, people will continue to remain clueless as to what happens to it,” he says.
Why does Greenville’s growth present wastewater challenges?
But as more people come to Greenville, ReWa faces a greater challenge of balancing the economic progress with the environmental sustainability of our community.
“We’re the most populated county in the state,” Rich says. “But, we discharge in some of the smallest streams.” Rich says without well-operated wastewater treatment plants, the county’s streams would be polluted and foul-smelling.
“There’s a reason why people come to South Carolina and the Greenville area to live,” Rich says. “And, there’s a reason why people are leaving Flint, Michigan — and both are water related.”
Greenville’s clean air and water, nice weather, international business community, diversity, and overall quality of life are what Rich credits for attracting people and business.
“I would contend that if it were not for ReWa and environmental laws, the Reedy River wouldn’t be that pristine, clean stream that people would want to be outside walking by,” he says.
Calling ReWa Greenville’s ‘unsung hero,’ Rich says much planning with various entities takes place to keep wastewater from presenting issues in future years.
“We want to be able to continue to grow but also balancing environmental and sustainability needs of the community,” he says. “That’s not easily done. It takes a lot of preparation.”
As growth continues, ReWa must ensure pipe availability and capacity, reliability of pump stations and all equipment, and functionality of technology.
Why is public education of water treatment important?
Rich says another great challenge as time progresses is keeping rates affordable. As a special purpose district, ReWa receives no tax funding and operates through user rates alone.
“The public is going to have to understand that this is what it takes to maintain that quality of life to attract industry, to protect our water sources, to protect our air quality — all of that,” Rich says.
As one of the longest serving board members of ReWa, J.D. Martin continues to plan future best practices for wastewater.
“The hard sale is to convince people that the best thing we can do as stewards of the environment is to make sure we take care of our waste,” Martin says.
Wanting the next generation to stay and work in Greenville, Martin says they are the future of ReWa and ensuring sustainability.
“In the new age of technology, we’ll have the ability to use better waste treatment facilities and smaller footprints and release better water back into the watersheds,” Martin says. “We have a tremendous responsibility to be sure that we go forward in that.”