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New use suggested for Tucson sewage plant

TUCSON, Ariz. — Researchers at the University of Arizona have come up with a proposal to turn a decommissioned sewage treatment plant into a state-of-the-art aquatic research station.

Under the proposal, the old Roger Road plant in Tucson would become a fish hatchery for tilapia, striped bass and eels. It's also possible the plant's tanks could be used to grow algae and studies of the practical uses of reclaimed water could be conducted there.

UA professor Kevin Fitzsimmons said reclaimed water is the only "new" source of water and there is strong interest in the private and scientific communities in the safe use of treated sewage water.

"We have to use what (water) we've got," he told the Arizona Daily Star.

Fitzsimmons, who worked on the nine-page proposal, envisions the project as a partnership between the university and private commercial groups.

On Monday, a professor from Kentucky State University who has some small-scale successes in turning decommissioned treatment plants into operational fish farms is expected to tour the site.

University of Arizona labs have taken samples of the tilapia grown in the Kentucky farms. Fitzsimmons said they're cleaner than fish from the wild.

Over the long term, he said the research station could generate revenue from the sale of fish and eel meat.

The UA researchers have told Pima County they have approached the largest fish farm in the state about a possible partnership at the site and were told there's interest in a partnership to supply the Tucson area with fresh fish.

However, the first few years of the research station would likely focus on hatching fish and studying them, with the fish being shipped to other fish farms in the state to be grown to their full size.

Any decision on the fate of the plant would have to be approved by the county. It currently has $32 million budgeted for demolition of the plant.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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