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Water Treatment Facility Design Guide

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Review our guide to water treatment facility design.

The design of a water treatment facility is critical for its success. A carefully planned and laid-out facility stands up to the elements, treats water effectively and protects public health. It prioritizes the structural integrity of treatment and storage areas and is optimized for employee wellness and low environmental impact.

How can your company use design to set a new water treatment facility up for success? This guide takes an in-depth look at water treatment facility design and how to maximize its benefits for the facility and for the surrounding community.

Importance of Water Treatment Facility Functionality

These facilities are vitally important to public health and safety — they serve as a necessary line of defense against waterborne diseases like giardiasis, typhoid and cholera, among others.

Many countries lack the level of water treatment regulation of the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about 2 million people worldwide get their water from a source contaminated with fecal matter. Every year, contaminated drinking water causes about 485,000 preventable deaths from diarrheal diseases and other illnesses.

A functional water treatment plant helps prevent illness and death from waterborne diseases. It keeps residents healthy and provides them with clean, fresh water, helping them enjoy a high quality of life.

Considerations When Designing a Water Treatment Facility

These are some key considerations when designing a water treatment facility.

As your company develops strategies for how to design a water treatment facility, you’ll need to consider important factors like location, layout, equipment types, safety, odors, aesthetics and noise, and the specific effluent discharge criteria that apply will to the new plant.

1. Plant Location

Ideally, the choice of site location will take certain factors into account:

  • Proximity to nearby water sources
  • Degree of isolation from residential areas and land use
  • Flooding risk
  • Prevailing wind conditions
  • Soil conditions
  • Potential for facility expansion or the addition of treatment stages
  • Suitability of site for effluent disposal
  • Suitability of site or nearby areas for sludge disposal
  • Design capacity

For example, the ideal location for a new water treatment facility is out of the flood zone so floodwaters cannot sweep pollutants away as runoff and potentially contaminate groundwater or freshwater sources. It should be located away from nearby water sources but close to water areas that are suitable for receiving the treated effluent as discharge.

The site should also be large enough to accommodate future growth and far enough away from residential areas so that unsightly features and unpleasant smells will not have negative impacts on locals.

2. Ideal Layout

Many water treatments plants have layouts designed to minimize their impacts on the environment and the public. For example, many plants are sited downwind of nearby residents to minimize the odors that reach them. Buffer spaces of several hundred feet between the plant and the nearest residences are ideal for the same reason.

Within the layout of a water treatment plant, the headworks — the place where wastewater enters the facility, and the part of the plant most likely to generate odors — is also generally located farther away from residences than structures that house subsequent steps of the process. Additionally, the parts of the water treatment plant most likely to emit odors often include coverings or housings, and they contain extensive ventilation and air-scrubbing equipment.

3. Safety and Comfort

The design of a water treatment facility should consider the safety and comfort of employees and visitors.

The design of a new water treatment facility is most optimal if it considers the safety and comfort of employees and visitors.

The design team may decide to add safety features like handrails, adequate interior lighting, sprinklers and other fire control features, traction strips on steps and convenient storage areas for personal protective equipment (PPE). They will likely also want to add protections to ensure critical structures will not fail because of sun or weather damage.

Local design codes will dictate what safety features are required in the plant — additional features are optional and make for helpful complements to the layout and design.

4. Odors Associated With Various Treatment Stages

Often, when alternatives are available, choosing certain processes and designing layouts around them can help minimize odors.

For example, primary clarifiers are often significant sources of odors, so many plants choose to design facilities that use alternative processes. Some avoid gravity sludge thickeners for the same reason. Plants may also be interested in incorporating screw processes or centrifuges that contain integral covers instead of using belt presses.

Another issue to consider is the transport of wastewater from various parts of the plant to the site of the odor scrubbers. The design team may want to consider enclosing or covering any processes that cause odors and including high-density polyethylene ducts for transport.

Other focused odor control and mitigation strategies are possible, including the use of biological and chemical agents to control odors. To help the facility manage these substances, the water treatment plant design team may want to include storage areas for the odor-controlling chemicals so the facility can always keep the necessary supply on hand. The team may also include dedicated scrubbing facilities where chemical treatment can safely take place.

Some water treatment plants use fragrances to mask odors from wastewater.

Some water treatment plants use fragrances to mask odors emanating from the wastewater. In these cases, designers may want to include a small piping system to transport the fragrances.

5. Equipment Type

Ideally, the design of a new water treatment plant accommodates all processes necessary for treatment, and those processes are optimized for the facility’s layout. For example, if certain constraints require the facility to be relatively compact, the plant may choose to use membrane bioreactors (MBRs) because of their smaller footprints.

Some plants use biological scrubbers for odor control to minimize the addition of chemicals to the water. Further, adding biological scrubbers to a plant’s layout can help minimize its visual impact on the surrounding environment. Biological scrubbers are generally not as tall as chemical scrubbers, so they stick out less in the landscape. These are also relatively easy to design in a way that keeps the area looking nice for residents while still allowing the plant to do its job.

However, despite the advantages of biological scrubbers, some plants prefer chemical scrubbers because they have used them for years and know they work reliably. Chemical scrubbers generally use nozzles to spray oxidants such as sodium hypochlorite and sodium hydroxide into the air rising from the wastewater. The chemicals bind to and oxidize odor-causing compounds in the air, generating harmless byproducts.

Because chemical scrubbers are relatively tall, the design team may look to features they can add to camouflage or hide these structures. For example, architects and designers might decide to add an attractively designed wall in front of the scrubbers. They may also contract to have a mural or other artwork added to the wall to boost aesthetic appeal.

6. Noise and Aesthetics

The type of equipment chosen for the plant often has an impact on the noise pollution generated. In some cases, design teams have little say in the equipment the plant uses. If they do, however, they can choose equipment with low decibel ratings to eliminate nuisance noise. For example, high-speed turbo blowers are often much quieter than equipment such as multi-stage centrifugal blowers or positive displacement blowers.

Even if the design team has no say in the equipment, it can develop a design that optimizes noise containment. Acoustic treatment to the walls housing the equipment can do a lot to help a plant quietly coexist with the surrounding community. Some types of equipment also come with acoustically insulated enclosures that the design team can use to muffle sounds.

A design project will likely also want to ensure the facility blends in with the landscape as much as possible to avoid provoking complaints from residents about its appearance.

7. Effluent Discharge Criteria

One of the most important steps the design team can take is to establish the guidelines the facility’s discharged effluent must meet. They can then ensure the facility contains the correct equipment and layout to meet those criteria and comply with the law.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets regulatory standards for effluent quality.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets national regulatory standards for effluent quality. The EPA imposes these standards on an industry-by-industry basis. Individual states or municipalities may have additional requirements.

The EPA’s effluent guidelines break down into several different levels of control:

  1. Best practical control technology (BPT) currently available: The EPA generally establishes BPT limitations based on information like the average best performance of treatment facilities of various sizes, ages and processes. It looks at factors like the cost of applying the control technology, equipment age, the processes used, the control technology’s engineering aspects and potential environmental impacts.
  2. Best conventional pollutant control technology (BCT): BCT governs conventional contaminants from common industrial point sources. To establish BCT limitations, the EPA considers a two-part cost-reasonableness test and other relevant factors.
  3. Best available technology economically achievable (BAT): BAT represents the best technology plants can reasonably afford to use. In assessing BAT, the EPA considers factors like the cost of achieving effluent reductions, equipment age, the processes used, technology changes and potential environmental impacts.
  4. New source performance standards (NSPS): NSPS apply to direct discharge from new plants, and they lay out the effluent reductions that the best available demonstrated control technology makes possible. Because new plants generally have access to the latest and best technology, NSPS represent the strictest controls achievable with the best available demonstrated control technology.
  5. Pretreatment standards for new sources (PSNS): PSNS are uniform, nationwide technology standards the EPA applies to plants that discharge effluent to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). These standards are intended to minimize contaminant discharges that could interfere with or be incompatible with POTW operation.
  6. Pretreatment standards for existing sources (PSES): PSES apply to existing sources of effluent, and like PSNS, they apply to plants that are indirect dischargers of effluent. Plants must comply with the standards within a certain timeframe — usually no more than three years after the standard’s effective date.
  7. Best management practices (BMPs): BMPs are designed to control or prevent effluent discharge, usually through the use of certain activities, prohibitions, maintenance procedures or other relevant practices. The EPA uses BMPs either in place of or in addition to effluent limitations.

Design teams will want to ensure they understand what effluent guidelines apply to the water treatment facility being planned. Consulting with the EPA and local regulatory authorities is a good first step. Then, they can set design quality objectives that ensure the facility will consistently be able to comply with the law.

Follow these three steps for designing a water treatment facility.

Steps for Designing a Water Treatment Facility

Designing a water treatment facility is a complex undertaking, one that must take numerous details into account. When your company is thinking about how to design a water treatment facility, here are some of the steps that should make up the process:

1. Assess Location Compatibility and Aesthetic Impact

Your project can do a few things to be sure the new facility has minimal impact on its surroundings.

First, it’s a good idea to design the new water treatment plant so its exterior matches nearby buildings as much as possible. Your company may want to choose similar materials to those used in surrounding buildings, and it can also design the facility in a similar architectural style.

Many facilities use thick, practical fencing with little aesthetic appeal, and it stands out dramatically against the landscape. To counteract this effect, a project might choose more attractive materials, such as wrought iron, or even a picket fence if it meshes nicely with the surrounding environment.

Your project may also want to limit the visibility of the facility’s structures wherever that is feasible. For example, you might bury certain tanks to limit visibility. Another common aesthetic concern is minimizing damage to the natural landscape around the plant. If it is possible, your project can try to adjust the layout of the plant to preserve natural features like trees and hills.

Your project can also adjust the layout of the plant to boost its aesthetic appeal. Too often, treatment plant layouts consist of several near-identical buildings in a row, giving the project the look of exactly what it is — an industrial facility. Design teams can combat this effect by offsetting, separating or rotating various buildings and structures, as long as this layout does not impede plant operations.

Outdoor lighting can enhance a plant's aesthetic.

A project can also enhance a plant’s aesthetic qualities by taking care with outdoor lighting. The ideal outdoor area lighting is soft and won’t produce harsh glares that interfere with nearby residents’ sleep. Project teams can attend to this factor by keeping outdoor lights relatively low to the ground and pointing them downward to minimize glare.

Finally, projects can use vegetation and landscaping to their advantage to improve the aesthetic qualities of the new water treatment facility. A water treatment plant might not seem like a place for carefully manicured lawns or beautifully planted flowers. However, small touches like these can do a lot to boost the community’s attitude toward the new facility. If the plants have pleasant fragrances, they can also sometimes help mask the smells emanating from the plant.

2. Optimize Layouts for Functionality, Safety and Convenience

In general, the layout of a water treatment plant should maximize efficiency, minimize costs and reduce the facility’s negative aesthetic impacts.

Designers can optimize the plant’s layout by arranging buildings in a way that allows for future expansions of the various treatment stages. It should also take advantage of prevailing winds and climate conditions to keep unpleasant odors away from residential areas.

In many cases, by keeping structures close together, designers can provide a plant layout that minimizes the need for extensive piping to transport waste at its various stages from one place to the next.

Roadways in and around the facility should receive attention, as well. Their design and construction should enable them to bear the weight of the heaviest vehicles that will travel on them, including delivery and disposal vehicles. Roadway design should also allow the vehicles’ turning radius to enable forward exits from the site.

A strong plant layout also takes power lines into account. Having high-voltage power lines that cross over the facility is dangerous, so ideally, high-voltage power lines poles will be located on the property line. The step-down transformer will be located at the final pole, unless the distance from the pole to the control building is too far. If the transformer must be located next to the building, cables can be run underground so the transformer does not require a highly visible protective fence.

3. Build a Smart 3D Model of the Plant

Many design teams, especially those focused on prevention by design (PbD) or safety by design (SbD), use building information modeling to make their jobs easier.

Building information modeling (BIM) uses intelligent software modeling to provide teams with a 3D virtual-review platform. Unlike a basic blueprint, this platform incorporates all of the building’s capabilities and functionalities. It enables the design team to assess structural integrity and work out how various changes to a facility might affect other areas of its operation — more windows might increase heating and cooling requirements, for instance.

3D BIM models can help a plant manage its relations with the public.

Aside from helping the design team assess its work in miniature before committing to it on-site, a 3D BIM model can help the plant manage its relations with the public. If nearby residents get word of a new water treatment plant coming to their neighborhood, they may become concerned and raise objections.

The local government or facility managers might propose a meeting where residents can come together and have their concerns addressed. At the meeting, a display of the model could show residents exactly where the plant will be, what its layout will look like and what features will be in place to minimize its impacts on the community and the environment.

Advantages of Adding Commercial Shade Structures

Commercial shade structures in your water treatment facility will keep your employees cool in hot weather.

Adding commercial shade structures to your new water treatment facility design keeps employees cool in hot weather. It also ensures the outdoor areas of the plant remain hospitable for workers and maintenance crews all year.

Additionally, shade structures protect your outdoor tanks, treatment structures and storage facilities from overheating and sustaining sun damage. They prevent the occurrence of too much evaporation, which could lead to low water levels in tanks and cause dangerous chemical imbalances. Many local governments require water treatment plants to have shade structures in place to ensure safety around water treatment and storage areas.

Keep in mind that the temperature in the shade is usually the ambient outdoor temperature. However, the advantage of shade is that it protects against harmful direct sunlight. Direct solar radiation causes areas in the sun to feel 10 to 15 degrees hotter than shady areas. So, employees who work in the shade on hot summer days tend to feel cooler than those who work in direct sunlight.

Another reason the shade feels so much cooler than direct sunlight is the urban heat island effect. In urban areas, concrete buildings and infrastructure reflect heat, making urban areas about 1 to 7 degrees hotter in the daytime than rural areas. A water treatment facility, with its many industrial buildings and structures, may experience a similar effect, and that excess heat can cause damage and adverse health effects.

Fortunately, USA SHADE has an extensive catalog of shade structures in many attractive styles and shapes to keep the wastewater treatment facility cool while enhancing its aesthetic appeal:

  • Squares and rectangles: Our square and rectangular shade structures feature simple, durable, economical structures with classical lines to complement the look of nearby buildings while providing essential shade.
  • Shade sails: Shade sails have a minimal, triangular design that provides shade while reducing visual clutter on the landscape. These kite-like shapes provide a way to add aesthetic appeal to a facility.
  • Multi-sided structures: Our multi-sided structures offer several shapes beyond the traditional four-sided structure. Triangles, hexagons, octagons and five-point sails add geometric flair while keeping the wastewater treatment facility cool.
  • Single posts: Single-post designs feature a single column supporting an overhead shade panel. They offer an eye-catching aesthetic while maximizing open spaces so employees on foot and in vehicles can maneuver efficiently.
  • Cantilever structures: Cantilever shade structures use side supports, so they work well for spaces where your company wants to create an open space ideal for working freely.
  • Specialty designs: Specialty shade structure designs come in unique shapes. Your company might choose shade structures in the shapes of flower petals or other artistic designs. These structures are ideal for a facility that needs to make a strong positive impression on the surrounding community with its visual appeal.

At USA SHADE, we also make your projects easier by providing full design and build solutions that encompass everything from concept design to installation. We offer services like these:

  • Site-specific analyses
  • Conceptual design and engineering
  • Project engineering
  • Project management
  • Fabrication
  • Construction management

We are also happy to provide custom shade structures for your next water treatment facility project. Our in-house design and engineering teams can develop custom shade structures that blend with other elements of your design, minimize the aesthetic impacts of the project and keep employees and structures cool.

Request a quote for shade structures to enhance your water treatment plant design.

Request a Quote for Water Treatment Facility Shade Structures

To enhance your next water treatment plant design with attractive shade structures, work with USA SHADE. We have years of experience providing shade structures for water treatment facilities. Our custom structures give your company the freedom to plan an ideal facility layout, knowing you can use shade structures to ensure employee safety and protect the structural integrity of buildings and tanks.

Take a look at our architectural studio page to learn more about our processes. Feel free to request a quote today, or contact us to learn more about including shade structures in your next water treatment plant project.