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Cypress Wastewater Restoration Project

June 26, 2010

Visit to Mandeville Wastewater Assimilation Project

June 10, 2010

Mandeville is a fifty-minute car trip from New Orleans over the ‘longest bridge in the world.’ Traveling over the bridge one cannot help but imagine the extensive engineering required to complete a twenty-three mile long bridge. The bridge, almost destroyed by an escaped barge many years ago, now holds a long line of travelers.

On coming into town it is clear that this area was developed more recently than New Orleans. Extensively landscaped yards host a range of brick and wooden homes built within the last thirty years or so. Each house is surrounded by substantial green space and the tree -lined streets are shady and cool. This area did not sustain flood damage and the shaded winding streets appear to be new.

We find our way to the Mandeville Treatment plant where both the mayor and the head engineer greet us.

The class is briefed by the chief engineer-Dave Degeneres, Director of Public Works. Photo by L. Pfeiffer

The city of Mandeville has chosen to design a biological wastewater treatment system in which nitrogen enriched and treated sewer effluent is discharged into the surrounding wetlands providing nutrients for the surrounding Cypress-tupelo swamp while purifying the wastewater.

The Mandeville facility incorporates community education and habitat restoration into the treatment site. Here the restoration is showcased via a boardwalk. photo by L. Pfeiffer

Jennifer and Natalie discuss the possibility of sign construction for the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle project. photo by L. Pfeiffer

Examples of signs include those which explain how wetland plants cycle nutrients, plant identification,  and descriptions of wildlife in the area.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

Our first stop is the overflow pond, complete with turtles and a small alligator.

An Overflow pond. photo by L.Pfeiffer

The overflow pond (pictured above) provides a holding area for excess water created during runoff from rainstorms or storm surge. This biological treatment facility accepts sewage from eight existing treatment plants, which in the past, had discharged directly into local water bodies. This plant has increased storm water drainage capacity for the city and decreased both the point source and non-point source pollution.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

An extensive pipe system (on the left of the boardwalk) carries treated fresh water and nutrients out to the marshlands. Fresh water is important to offset the salinity of the ocean water introduced to this marshland from post-hurricane tidal surge. Hurricane Katrina introduced an eight-foot tidal surge, followed three weeks later by a seven- foot tidal surge during Hurricane Rita. These storms and the resulting salt water severely degraded the wetlands causing plant loss and soil erosion.

One of the goals of this treatment facility is to preserve natural and scenic marshland and provide an intact wetland ecosystem to absorb storm surge and protect the surrounding community. It is estimated that 25-50% of Cypress-tupelo swamps have been lost due to logging and salt-water intrusion, causing the population of Louisiana to be more vulnerable flooding from hurricanes. Intact swamps act as a barrier to slow the force of post-hurricane storm surges and protect the floodwalls and levies.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

The swamps play a critical role in the history of New Orleans. When we interview older local residents, they tell stories of spending the entire day in the swamp catching catfish, crawfish, garfish, and logger head turtles in the bayou.  Restoration of these wetlands through wastewater assimilation will not only help protect the residents from storm surge, it also will restore the possibilities for residents to fish and gather seafood which once played a critical role in regional diets and is the foundation of the world renown New Orleans cuisine.

The Process of Wastewater Treatment.

Wastewater enters the plant from the city of Mandeville and surrounding areas where it is filtered to remove non-biodegradable materials. It is then aerated and piped through a series of three ponds like the one pictured below. Large waste particles settle out into the ponds. .  The current ponds have been in existence for over twenty years and are just now showing signs of algae growth.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

The next step in the process is called ‘nitrification’ where ammonia is removed from the water by running the water through this sprinkler system (pictured below) to oxidize the water. It is then drained and through the large rocks below.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

From here the ‘nitrified’ water travels through a series of pipelines and is discharged into the marsh.

On our tour we witnessed both fish and alligators enjoying assimilation water. Wetlands serve as nurseries for small fish and crustations.

An alligator peeks up through the water. photo by L. Pfeiffer

The subtropical climate in Louisiana provides optimal conditions for use of nutrient assimilation as a method for wastewater treatment.  In a recent study on Cypress tree growth at the Cypriere Perdue Swamp (St. Martin Parish) from 1920 to 1990, there was a significant difference in tree growth (mean basil increment) of baldcypress trees in the nutrient rich waters of the wastewater treatment site compared to a Cyprus forest with no treatment assimilation project (Hesse and Doyle, 1998).

Here we see young Cyprus trees established at the Mandeville treatment site.

Young Cypress Trees. photo by L. Pfeiffer

This project with increase the cities wastewater treatment capacity from two million gallons daily to four million gallons daily while preserving the Chinchuluba Basin floodplain. The benefits include increased growth of marsh grasses, plants and trees, which in turn provide habitat to waterfowl.

photo by L. Pfeiffer

photo by L. Pfeiffer

Our guide, engineer Dave Degeneres. photo by L. Pfeiffer

The city planners and engineer (Dave) at Mandeville have successfully demonstrated how we can develop sustainable treatment systems which restore and preserve native ecosystems while providing a critical service for local communities. Thanks Dave!


Dave DeGeneres, Director of Public Works, Mandeville, Louisiana

Report by Greg Gordon, Director of Environmental Services (2001)

Mandeville Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project


One Comment leave one →
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