Resourceful Water Treatment

4. Finally, the water flows through an ultraviolet sterilizer to ensure final water purification.

The bottom line is that no chemicals are used to treat the camp’s wastewater. The system is designed to handle 14,500 gallons of effluent per day.

Where Does The “Clean” Water Go?

1. To an educational pond that demonstrates the water is clean enough to support a healthy ecosystem full of life, including fish, snails, and flowering aquatic plants.

2. To a drip-irrigation system used to keep a green, fertile, and level ball-field lawn year-round.

Future plans include reusing the water in toilets.

How Clean Does The Wastewater Get?

Test results from Aqua Test Inc. (a Washington State Department of Ecology-approved wastewater testing lab) showed the treatment was more effective than design criteria. The Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) was less than 2 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Comparatively, a BOD of less than 30 mg/L is acceptable for discharge to rivers and bays; the system was 15 times better than that minimum standard.

The total fecal coliform standard for beaches and swimming pools is less than 200 per milliliter (mL). The camp’s total coliform was 55 per mL, or almost four times better than that standard.

Was Installing The System Expensive?

The cost of installing a water-treatment system is certainly more expensive than merely maintaining septic tanks; we spent about $580,000. However, we were able to fund over 60 percent of the costs through grants and other contributions. Ten foundations and businesses also contributed to the project.

Why A Living Machine?

The Living Machine at Camp Seymour is the largest in the state and one of a handful across North America. The idea is copied from nature: using a natural ecosystem to clean water. It is its own ecosystem, accelerating nature’s water-purification process.

The Living Machine treats the camp’s wastewater to a tertiary level, the level just below drinking water. Although the treated water is not drinkable, it is much cleaner than wastewater treated by a conventional septic system, which is how many homeowners and other camps around Puget Sound treat their wastewater.

Not only is this an ecologically responsible system, but it provides opportunities for community involvement and education. Camp Seymour is leading the way by treating wastewater in a sustainable way to ensure future generations have cleaner water and a healthier Puget Sound.

Scott Gjertson is the Outdoor and Environmental Education Director at Camp Seymour. He can be reached via e-mail at

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