White Mountains Online

Pintail Lake and Redhead Marsh


Created Wetlands In Northern Arizona

Treated municipal wastewater is being used in N.E. Arizona to create some very interesting wetlands. Wildlife response to this new habitat has been dramatic with over 120 species of birds using them. The local community is justly proud of this example of environmental innovation and cooperation.

Background & History

Pintail Lake in winter.The City of Show Low built its first wastewater collection and treatment system in 1958. It consisted of sewer lines, serving the original townsite and contiguously built up areas of the city, and two stabilization ponds for treatment. Effluent was discharged directly into Show Low Creek, adjacent to the treatment plant, eventually reaching Fool Hollow Lake. Nutrient loading resulted in accelerated lake eutrophication, algae blooms, and resulting fish kills.

In 1970, with the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service, wastewater discharge into the creek was halted. The effluent was pumped two miles north to a natural depression known as Telephone Lake where it contributed to the development of wildlife habitat. In 1977, due to increasing population and resulting effluent flows, the treatment system was expanded to include additional natural depressions to the East which became known as Pintail and South Lake Marshes. In Pintail Lake the U.S. Forest Service began to construct islands to enhance waterfowl reproduction.

By 1982 wastewater flows exceeded the treatment plant's design capacity. Discharges directly into Show Low Creek and decreased quality of effluent delivered to the marsh treatment areas resulted in degraded habitat quality and sharply decreased waterfowl populations. In 1985 the City began to work on a long term solution to the problems of treatment plant capacity and providing high quality effluent to the created wetlands.

The solution selected was to deepen and improve the existing treatment lagoons by adding aeration, increase pumping capacity, add stabilization ponds for secondary treatment, increase the capacity of Telephone Lake for effluent storage, and add additional marsh capacity for final treatment and reuse.

Treatment Facility

Aerial view of Pintail LakeThe City of Show Low wastewater treatment facility now consists of two aerated lagoons that may be operated in series or parallel, a lift station with two 1,150 gpm pumps, four biological stabilization ponds that may also be operated in series or parallel, a chlorination contact chamber, effluent storage and clarification in Telephone Lake, nutrient removal in constructed riparian areas, and eventual reuse in constructed waterfowl marshlands.

For more information, please feel free to contact the USDA Forest Service, Lakeside Ranger District at 520.368.5111 or you may write us at 2022 W. White Mtn. Blvd., Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona 85935

White Mountains Online wishes to express our appreciation to the USDA Forest Service, Lakeside District for providing this information! This and other articles may be found in print media entitled:

Constructed Wetlands for Wastewater Treatment and Wildlife Habitat
United States Environmental Protection Agency
September 1993