This week on “Wonderful Water,” join Aaron Keck as he discusses how our community’s wastewater is managed and optimized with OWASA wastewater treatment plant and biosolids recycling manager Monica Dodson — as well as Wil Lawson, OWASA’s operations supervisor. You can listen to their full conversation below, and learn more about OWASA’s wastewater treatment here. 

Rotary press discharging dewatered biosolids into container at the Mason FarmWastewater Treatment Plant. (photo via OWASA)

With the recent release of this year’s freshly revamped OWASA Wastewater Report Card, it’s as good a time as any to talk about what exactly went into treating the 3 billion gallons worth of water that was processed by OWASA in the past year — and what the year ahead looks like.

“Our main goal is to make sure that that wastewater remains in the pipe so that it can safely make it to our facility for treatment,” said Dodson. “We have a crews that regularly clean and inspect our sewer lines to help prevent any buildup or blockages. They use cameras to assess the condition of the system and look for cracks or potential areas where maybe roots have made it into the system.”

That pipe maintenance takes place across roughly 350 miles of pipe, according to Dodson, and in 21 pumping stations that move water from low-lying areas to higher elevation in order to take advantage of gravity to more efficiently move water to OWASA’s treatment facility. From there, a combination of physical, chemical and biological processes are implemented to make wastewater useful again.

“For me, the most interesting fact about this is that the majority of the treatment is done by the bacteria that comes naturally from the humans,” said Lawson. “Then, with the end of the process, we have several items that we gain back that are beneficial to the environment — such as reclaimed water, biogas and biosolids.”

Aaron Keck, Monica Dodson and Wil Lawson

Biogas taken from the treatment process is used to run OWASA boilers — a process that saves the carbon dioxide equivalent of 80 cars off the road each year, according to Lawson. Reclaimed water is re-purposed by UNC to flush toilets, irrigate landscaping and run cooling systems to the tune of 2 billion gallons saved since 2009.

“Wastewater treatment is much more than just about managing waste,” said Dodson. “It’s about water reuse through our reclaimed water system, and about nutrient recovery through our biosolids recycling program. It’s about energy generation through the biogas … and it’s about, you know, us helping create a more sustainable community.”


Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents use roughly 7 million gallons of water a day, and “Wonderful Water” is a monthly conversation sponsored by the Orange Water and Sewer Authority highlighting its work to keep our community growing and water flowing.