Sedona Trackers Group Tours the Sedona Wastewater Treatment Plant

February 23, 2024


By Dave Minott

Northern Arizona Audubon Society’s wetland, adjacent to the Sedona Wastewater Treatment Plant. Wastewater, treated to Grade A+ quality at the Facility, is the water source for the wetland, a vibrant wildlife sanctuary.

Sedona Trackers Group Tours the Sedona Wastewater Treatment Plant

by Dave Minott

Have you ever wondered what happens to the wastewater we wash down our kitchen sinks and flush from our bathrooms here in Sedona? Most of us have seen the giant geysers of water shooting into the air beside SR 89A as we drive back to Sedona from Cottonwood. That is part of the wastewater story – but more on that later. To find out what happens to Sedona’s wastewater – and the news is good – the Trackers Group of the Sedona Westerners hiking club recently visited the impressive Sedona Wastewater Treatment Plant. Tom Peterson and I organized the tour for our group. Our Westerners six hiking groups offer differing hiking rigor, and this was one of the eight educational field visits and hikes scheduled for the Westerners Trackers group this season.

We assembled at the Posse Grounds meetup and carpooled south on SR 89A a short distance to the Sedona Wastewater Treatment Plant. After gaining access through the facility’s rolling gate, we were cordially greeted by the Plant’s Administrative Assistant, Roxanne Wessel who introduced us to Mike Atwater, the Chief Plant Operator. Mike prefaced our tour with a brief overview of what the facility does. He explained that the wastewater system starts with wastewater collection - over 1 million gallons per day of sewage from Sedona’s homes and businesses - then wastewater treatment, and finally, the management of the cleaned wastewater and the separated solids resulting from the treatment process. Mike then led us on a tour of the key process equipment. First, the incoming wastewater flows through a bar screen that removes large items such as big masses of human hair and flushed wet wipes. Next, we were shown a large, open concrete basin filled with a murky mix of wastewater liquid and solids (particles of poop, food waste, toilet paper). The murky liquids were being pumped with air to become a swirling froth. This aeration provides oxygen to promote “good bacteria” in the wastewater that break down the organic solids and also remove excess nitrogen. 

Next, the solid material suspended in the wastewater is removed by settlement in a large basin, also by centrifugal force in a spinning centrifuge, and then by filtration in a sand filter. Finally, we saw a large basin in which high-intensity ultraviolet light is directed through the clarified wastewater to kill pathogens, the harmful bacteria. The resulting treated wastewater meets Arizona’s A+ Standard, which means that the wastewater has been treated and disinfected until there are no routinely detectable disease-causing bacteria present. 

What happens to the solids that have been removed from the wastewater? Those solids (known as sludge or biosolids) are air-dried in large concrete basins and then sent to a landfill for disposal. 

Finally, what happens to the Class A+ treated wastewater coming from the wastewater treatment plant? Mike explained that this reclaimed water is sent back to the environment via three different methods which are (1) surface spray irrigation, (2) injection to groundwater, and (3) water for wetlands. Remember the water geysers I mentioned earlier that we see along SR 89A between Cottonwood and Sedona? They are a portion of Sedona’s reclaimed wastewater being used for surface irrigation to promote plant growth. The land here is grazed at times by elk. 

Several years ago a portion of the treated wastewater began being injected deep into the ground, returning it to the groundwater aquifer helping to preserve that crucial natural resource. The treated wastewater being returned to the aquifer is tested daily to ensure it meets Class A+ quality criteria. 

In addition, some 100,000 gallons per day of the Class A+ treated wastewater are piped to hydrate a beautiful wetlands park that was created next to the treatment plant over ten years ago. The wetlands park is administered by the Northern Arizona Audubon Society, and features six wetland ponds, a viewing deck, and hiking trails. Audubon indicates that, remarkably, over 260 species of birds visit here over the course of a year, with the wetlands providing both food and shelter. Visiting birds include several species of ducks, as well as geese, cranes, swans, grebes, loons, and innumerable small bird species. Many ducks congregate here during the winter months, and migrating shorebirds visit. 

After thanking Mike and Roxanne for their gracious hosting and the informative tour of the wastewater plant, the Trackers crew exited the wastewater plant, then diverted to the wetlands park immediately outside the gate. We took a short walk to Audubon’s viewing deck aside the largest wetland pond, where we noted this to be a genuine and beautiful wetland pond, surrounded on all sides by a thick copse of vibrant cat-o-nine tails. We were also delighted to see ducks swimming in the water and flying in flocks overhead. 

Very impressed, we then got back into our carpool vehicles and hit the road back to Sedona. We Trackers were very happy with our newly found knowledge that Sedona’s wastewater professionals are top-notch and that our wastewater is treated to a very high quality and then returned to the environment. 

To learn more about the Trackers and the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club, to view this season’s hiking schedule, or to become a member go to www.sedonawesterners.org. The hiking season runs through May 9, 2024, and the membership fee is only $30 for the whole season.

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