Every day, residents and businesses in the city of Early alone use between 200,000 and 300,000 gallons of water.
Currently, that water is being sent to Brownwood for treatment — the city of Brownwood uses a standard chemical treatment process that cleans the water thoroughly enough to be returned to the Pecan Bayou. Early pays Brownwood about $300,000 a year to dispose of its wastewater.
But after several years of planning, construction is now well underway on a $8.36 million project that will give the city of Early its own wastewater treatment facility about one mile south of Early Blvd. at the intersection of CR 316 and CR 317, or River Oaks Rd.
According to Early city administrator Tony Aaron, who has been involved with the project since he joined the city in December 2014, the facility includes one 24-acre holding pond that will accept clean water after treatment in two 7.5-acre ponds next to it. The ponds, he said, will irrigate about 140 acres of coastal hay, and will use a lagoon system that involves “very little chemical treatment.”
“It’s all through microbiology and the natural breakdown of [waste],” Aaron explained. “It’s similar to an aerobic septic system that somebody who lives out in the country might have. The end result is the water is applied to the hay fields, and no water is discharged from the property.
“We don’t put water back into the creeks or streams. It’s all used to grow hay,” he said.
At the construction site, the holding pond’s crater has already been dug out and tractors roam its walls, packing them in. The pond tapers from a deep end to a shallow end hundreds of yards away. Aaron said the contractors — Texarkana’s Four Thirteen Inc. — are currently installing a leak detection system that will monitor the forthcoming pond liner.
“The whole goal of this project is to take wastewater and dispose of it so that it’s no longer a hazardous product,” Aaron said. “If all the water stays in here and just evaporates eventually, then it’s being treated and recycled back into our environment. The hay is a byproduct of all this — if we can capture that water and use it to irrigate [hay], it’s an added benefit.”
Ken Martin is with Jacob & Martin, the Abilene engineering firm that designed Early’s wastewater facility. He said the lagoon system wastewater facility is a good solution for a town of Early’s size.
“There really is no power consumption other than irrigation pumps,” Martin said. “There are no chemicals added and very little power consumption, so it’s very low-maintenance. The treatment process itself is a biological process, and it treats it sufficiently to meet the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] requirements … for irrigation.”
Aaron and Martin said the ponds may require maintenance after approximately 25 years due to sludge buildup, and the liner will have to be monitored for tears. “A lot of it depends on what kind of loading is placed on the plant,” Martin said.
Aaron said the plant project was financed through a loan from the Texas Water Development Board, and that the city is fortunate to be financially healthy enough to complete the facility and gain some independence.
He said the city was able to save some of the oldest and largest trees surrounding the facility. “Sometimes you have to take some trees and stuff down,” he said, “but I just believe it shouldn’t be the first choice. If you can work around it, work around it.”
The facility is scheduled for completion in late winter or early spring 2018.