Arcata pond

Arcata is a university town of about 17,000 people in the northwest corner of California; it is nestled on the coast, between a stunning community owned forest and the Pacific Ocean. For three decades the city has been successfully treating its waste stream through a simple and effective system of natural wetlands, plantings and oxidation ponds.

Arcata water treatment plantArcata’s municipal sewage is treated at this plant with bio-digesters, heat from naturally produced methane and a series of aeration ponds.

Humboldt Bay

Situated on the northern edge of Humboldt Bay, the progressive municipality’s environmentally friendly treatment facility has proven to be both hugely successful and a very wise investment of local resources, not only because the system efficiently cleans and purifies the area’s water, but because it has also created many positive changes to the local landscape and the economy.

The city of Arcata now has lots of fresh clean drinking water, as well as the lowest sewage bills in the region. The community has built a stunning nature preserve for all to enjoy, which allows millions of local critters to thrive, draws tens of thousands of tourists and bird watchers each year, and also helps boost the local economy and neighborhood businesses.

Arcata ferns

Community Directed Sustainable Land Use

Arcata’s local water treatment project is an inspiring example of a small community working together to manifest more sustainable land use, as well as providing an example to the world how we may all benefit if we start to rethink our entrenched infrastructure. Much in the way that the city of Philadelphia opted to invest in creating thousands of green roofs, swales and more sustainable water managements systems, instead of spending billions to rebuild their aging and inefficient sewage system.

Arcata Bottoms

The Arcata Marsh project initially grew from research from the local college, the University of Humboldt. Located on the polluted site of a former lumber mill, the hundreds of acres land that now comprises the wetlands and the water treatment plant has been transformed into an interconnected series of wetlands and sloughs; the beautiful restored salt marshes have created habitat that benefits all manner of creatures, from migratory birds and tree frogs, to young salmon and even humans.

blue heron

This natural purification process is stunning in its simplicity, and the municipal water treatment wetlands have garnered worldwide attention and accolades. When you stroll through the extensive nature preserve, and marvel at the diversity of plants and wildlife flourishing, it is difficult to fathom that this visionary water treatment system almost never happened…

Arcata's Wastewater Wars

Next in the Arcata series:

Who Will Win the “Wastewater Wars”?

This is the first of five articles about the visionary community of Arcata, California; read more about the history of the Arcata Marsh and the city’s community owned forest in the next few weeks. You can also view the second installment in the series here.