Talking Water Gardens
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- Last Updated: February 17, 2015 February 17, 2015
In 2010, the cities of Albany and Millersburg joined with metals manufacturer ATI to create a new kind of water reclamation system inspired by the surrounding environment: an engineered treatment wetland that mimics the cleansing and cooling characteristics that occur in nature. The Albany-Millersburg Talking Water Gardens is the first public/private engineering project of its kind in the United States: a constructed treatment wetland designed to provide an additional level of natural treatment for a combined municipal and industrial wastewater flow. It will be the final step in returning this treated water safely to the Willamette River – a treatment option its designers say has more than twice the natural resource value of conventional alternatives.
Open to the public, seven days a week, sunrise to sunset
It is important to remember that this area is an engineered treatment wetlands, not a place to swim or play.
When visiting the Talking Water Gardens, make sure you follow these simple safety rules:
- No swimming. The water in the ponds of Talking Water Gardens is treated but it is not the place to cool off on a summer day and it is certainly not drinkable!
- Stay on the paths. Wetland cells are connected by soft-surface walking trails.
- No harassment of wildlife. Keep your (and your pets) interactions with all wildlife in Talking Water Gardens peaceful.
- All dogs and other pets must be on a leash. Owners are responsible for picking up after their pets.
- Talking Water Gardens closes at sunset. Some maintenance tasks are performed after dark, including watering some of the newer landscape areas. Being closed after sunset is for your own safety (see swimming above).
- No Smoking.
- A port-a-potty located in the parking lot.
- All other city ordinances apply.
The Talking Water Gardens project, an engineered wetlands facility, is designed to:
- Reduce water temperature, or excess thermal load (ETL), by up to 150 million kilo-calories per day to meet state guidelines and protect sensitive fish habitat.
- Naturally aerate and treat water to improve water quality by reducing pollutant levels, including the removal of 2,000 pounds per day of nitrogen and 40 pounds per day of phosphorus.
- Restore riparian forest and wetlands through plantings of native species.
- Promote wildlife habitat in a former industrial area by reclaiming treated wastewater for use in healthy wetlands environments.
- Create a living laboratory that brings wetland science to life for K-12 and university students and informs visitors about responsible water reclamation and environmental sustainability.
- Create a new natural attraction for Albany-area visitors that integrates the history of the site and the Willamette River.
Total project cost is $13.75 million: $8 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; $2.5 million from the two cities; and $3.25 million from ATI Wah Chang.
- American Public Works Association, Oregon Chapter
- 2011 Public Works Project of the Year
- 2011 Julian Award for Sustainability
- League of Oregon Cities
- 2011 Excellence Award
- Environmental Protection Agency
- 2011 Pisces Award for Performance and Innovation
- American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE) in:
- 2008, Planning
- 2011, Environmental Stewardshipcategory
- 2011, Superior Acheivment for best overall in category
- American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE)
In the News
- “Engineering Marvels“, Travel on MSNBC.com, October 21, 2010
- “Wastewater wetlands project creates jobs and protects Willamette River“, State of Oregon, Summer 2010, http://www.oregon.gov/recovery/stories_TalkingWater.shtml
- Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association (PNCWA) Talking Water Gardens Article, Spring 2010
Guest Photographer - Matt Lee
Matt Lee lives in North Albany and has been photographing birds and other wildlife as a hobby for about 20 years. He currently uses a Canon EOS 50D and 500 mm f/4 lens for most of his wildlife photos.
Natural Treatment System Specialist
Why was Talking Water Gardens created?
To protect our state’s vital aquatic habitat, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has mandated new limits on the total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) that public and private entities can place into the Willamette River, intended to lower river temperature and remove additional pollutants before the treated water is safely returned to rivers and streams. Increasingly higher temperatures in the river have contributed to declines in coldwater fish species such as salmon and trout.
In response, Albany and Millersburg partnered with ATI to solve this common challenge. Discharge from the Albany-Millersburg Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) is approximately 5°F too hot to meet the new limit. The wastewater entering the Albany-Millersburg WRF is warm primarily because of water heaters from homes and businesses; in summer, it is about 72°F. While the water is being treated at the WRF, the biological process and energy added with pumped air increases the temperature another degree. The temperature of flow discharged from ATI Wah Chang is similar. DEQ’s summer fish passage water temperature limit at Albany is 68°F.
In addition, ATI Wah Chang was required to relocate its point of discharge, established in 1956, from a tributary stream to the Willamette River. This created a situation where yet another effluent diffuser would need to be permitted, constructed, operated, and maintained in the Willamette River.
The partners explored many options with CH2M Hill including treatment plant upgrades, storage and cooling towers, refrigeration, land application reuse, new outfall diffusers, and treatment wetlands. An integrated wetland treatment system gave the cities and ATI Wah Chang the opportunity to achieve discharge limits, share costs, and produce greater overall economic, social, and environmental benefits for the community. Their innovative solution has done more than just additionally treat the water: it has provided an attractive, environmentally robust public-use site for recreation and learning.