The giant wheel-based machines are placed in flowing waterways to collect and remove floatable pollution. Photo courtesy of Clearwater Mills.
Dec. 17, 2021
When it comes to litter control, the “wheel" deal is coming to Tarrant County.
The city of Fort Worth recently announced that its teaming up with Tarrant Regional Water District and community partners to purchase two solar-powered waterwheels.
The giant wheel-based machines are placed in flowing waterways to collect and remove floatable pollution.
Municipal leaders say the waterwheels will improve the aesthetics and water quality of the Trinity River for both humans and wildlife.
“Everyone wants access to clean water and the ability to enjoy recreational activities without coming into contact with trash or stormwater pollution,” said Brandon Bennett, code compliance director for Fort Worth. “The concept behind waterwheels couldn’t be any simpler, but the results are astonishing when it comes to cleaning tons of trash pollution from waterways in a short period of time.”
The waterwheels themselves are pollution-free, using solar and hydro power. The river current assists in turning the wheel. Solar-powered pumps work a conveyer to lift trash and deposit it into a detachable dumpster.
The plan is to install at least two waterwheels on the Trinity River, north of downtown Fort Worth, to help clean the Clear Fork and West Fork of the river.
Watch the creator of the waterwheel explain his invention. Courtesy of NBC.
The city of Baltimore has successfully used the technology since 2014.
Baltimore’s “Mr. Trashwheel” has scooped up 1,760 tons of trash and debris from the city’s Inner Harbor since it was installed, including enough cigarette butts to stretch 150 miles, according to the program's website.
This week, the Fort Worth City Council agreed to accept various private donations to support the design, installation and maintenance of the Trinity River Waterwheels Initiative.
The upfront cost for the construction and installation is $600,000 per waterwheel. Once installed, the estimated annual maintenance cost is $50,000 per waterwheel.
The annual cost includes the disposal of collected wastes, system checks and annual system audits to maintain the waterwheels.
The goal is to fund both the construction and 10 years of maintenance through community donations. This will require about $600,000 per waterwheel ($1.2 million total) and another $1 million for 10 years of maintenance.
“We have had several donors interested,” said Cody Whittenburg, Code Compliance assistant director overseeing environmental quality for the city of Fort Worth. “If donations are received and designs are finalized – I anticipate construction could begin by Summer 2022.”
One of the frequently asked questions about the waterwheel is – does it harm wildlife?
“Based on design reviews, there should be very low risk to wildlife,” said Whittenburg.
According to the Mr. Waterwheel site, the rakes and conveyor belt move at a slow pace that deters fish, ducks, etc. away from the machine, preventing them from being entangled or harmed.
As for whether the waterwheels will replace the litter booms that the Tarrant Regional Water District has used in the past to collect trash on the Trinity, Whittenburg said the waterwheels could prove to be more effective and efficient.
The Tarrant Regional Water District's volunteers and staff collect an average around 130 tons of litter per year, said Darrel Andrews, assistant director for the Tarrant Regional Water District’s Environmental Division.
“We are looking forward to the waterwheels and their increased efficiency and ease of use for litter abatement,” said Andrews.
Whittenburg said he is also hoping the eye-catching machines will also raise awareness about litter.
“Changing behavior and promoting actions to stop litter at its sources is the ultimate goal,” Whittenburg says. “The waterwheels project has the opportunity to make a significant change downstream at the river as well as to educate everyone on how are community is all connected within the Trinity River watershed.”
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