No one can dispute that a lot has changed in 90 years. One thing that hasn’t changed is Charlotte Water’s commitment to safeguarding public health and protecting our waterways. Our twin wastewater treatment plants, Sugar Creek and Irwin Creek are celebrating their 90th birthday this year (they were built in 1927). While these two plants have expanded and advanced in technology throughout the last 90 years, they continue to be an award-winning treatment plant that serves the Charlotte community 24/7.
What do Rome, the Indus Valley civilizations and Charlotte have in common? They were all cities that thrived due to the installation of water and wastewater infrastructure. Without clean water to drink and sanitation systems, people fell prey to disease.
Before Irwin and Sugar Creek wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) were built, Charlotte residents dumped raw sewage directly into nearby creeks and streams. These practices were the root cause of outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, and polio. In 1924, Sugar Creek Wastewater treatment plant was built on Little Sugar Creek and began partial treatment of wastewater. In 1927, Sugar Creek WWTP was expanded and Irwin Creek WWTP was built, and both were the first modern-style plants in the state. They used the highly-effective activated sludge treatment process to remove nutrients and organic materials from the wastewater before it was put back into the creeks and streams.
This technology allowed for an increased quality of life for the residents of Charlotte, less polluted waterways and supported the consistent economic and population growth of the Charlotte region.
Many sectors of the economy are reliant upon water, and any disruption of water/wastewater services can cost businesses a significant amount of revenue. Since 1927, Sugar and Irwin WWTP’s have been treating wastewater 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and due to many plant expansions are now able to treat up to 20 and 15 million gallons, respectfully, of wastewater per day.
Protecting Charlotteans public health and waterways is something to celebrate. Sugar Creek and Irwin Creek Wastewater Treatment Plants do just that and are celebrating their 90th birthdays. When today’s Sugar Creek and Irwin Creek plants began construction in 1927, the plants were among the first modern-style plants in the state using the highly-effective activated sludge (microbiological) treatment process. The twin facilities — both located 6 miles outside the City limits at that time — were a modern marvel featured in the November 1928 edition of Public Works Magazine.
The activated sludge process removed nutrients and organic materials from the waterway. This development led to, arguably, the single most significant improvement in public health and environmental protection during the course of the century.
When they opened, both plants boasted a total treatment capacity of 6 million gallons per day (mgd) and an average flow of about half that amount.
Sugar & Irwin were not the original wastewater plants. In fact, Charlotte’s first recorded sewer system dates back to July 17, 1876, when a contract was awarded for the first sewer lines along Trade Street. In 1903, large sewer collection pipes (outfalls) were begun for the Sugar & Irwin creek basins. Sugar Creek WWTP has been at its existing site since 1924 and performed partial treatment of wastewater before it was put back into creeks and streams, but three years later, work began on new-and-improved plants utilizing activated sludge technology and fully treating the wastewater.
Fast forward to 2017, Sugar and Irwin Creek wastewater treatment plants are still serving the ever-growing population of Charlotte 24/7. Along with three other wastewater treatment plants, 80 million gallons of wastewater is treated daily.
Charlotte is not known for its historic buildings. It’s been said by many that Charlotte bulldozes its history, but that is not always the case. One of our very own buildings, the Vest Water Treatment Plant (Vest), has been considered a historic landmark by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. This 1920’s architectural style building has been a landmark on Beatties Ford Road for almost a century! It’s also been an anchor for growth.