If you're from the Seattle metro area, there's a good chance you've attended a wedding in Woodinville.
Located 30 minutes northeast of Seattle, semi-rural Woodinville is at a far enough remove away from the Interstate 5 corridor to be considered dreamy and idyllic. There are barns, farms, riverside lodges and for-hire lavender fields with open catering policies — the town's a rustic wedding wonderland. Most famously, there are well over 100 tasting rooms and wineries scattered about the area, many of which pull double-duty as picturesque backdrops for getting hitched.
But it's not grapes, however, that are being processed at one of Woodinville's most distinctive wedding venues.
It's the poop of about 1.5 million people.
Sprawling across 114 acres just north of Woodinville proper, the Brightwater sewage treatment plant went online in 2011 after a five-year construction process. And as far as facilities that can treat as much as 36 million gallons of wastewater per day are concerned, this one's a beauty.
Flanking the plant are thoughtfully designed "wetscapes" and wildlife habitats that have helped turn this $1.8 billion sewage treatment facility into an ecology-themed day-tripping destination complete with walking trails, scenic overlooks and public art. There are scenic ponds, creekc, meadows and even an effluent-fed restored salmon habitat spread across 70 acres of landscaped public space. On the northern edge of the facility is the Brightwater Environmental Education and Community Center, an architecturally stunning "clean water interpretive facility" that's proven to be a popular spot for events including — in true Woodinville style — knot-tying festivities.
And it's not that the Brightwater Center serves as a last-ditch fallback for soon-to-be-betrothed couples who booked too late and couldn't secure a winery on their special day. Darn, Columbia Winery is full up every weekend all next summer. Guess we'll have to go with the wastewater plant.
A nearly $2 billion mega-project, the Brightwater sewage treatment plant outside of Seattle has been renting out an adjacent education center for wedding parties since 2014. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The Brightwater Center is the desired wedding venue for a growing number of lovebirds despite the whole raw sewage thing. Billing itself as a "sustainably built modern facility" (it's LEED Platinum certified), the center boasts "beautiful reclaimed wood, polished concrete flooring and extensive natural lighting" with room for up to 250 guests. Plus, in addition to the lush grounds, there's ample parking, a large catering kitchen and a private dressing room, all within a bouquet's toss of where the contents of a few hundred thousand toilets eventually wind up. It's every bride's dream, basically.
The Brightwater Center — a "zero-odor" facility, by the way — made national headlines back in 2014 when it first started advertising itself on Facebook as a wedding venue.
And based on a recent article written by Matt Weiser for Water Deeply, it's evident that the King County Wastewater Treatment Division continues to prove that sewage treatment facilities can indeed be romantic when bolstered by savvy marketing, Instagram-ready open space and a bit of architectural razzle-dazzle. Per Water Deeply, two-dozen couples have proclaimed "I do" at Brightwater since 2014 in addition to the conferences and other events held at the center.
"Price — it always comes down to price, a lot of the other venues in this area are basically wineries," Susan Tallarico, the center's director, told local CBS affiliate KIRO 7 in 2014 of what she thought would be one of Brightwater's top selling points. The standard rate for an eight-hour indoor wedding event at Brightwater is $2,000 — a steal compared to other Woodinville venue rentals.
"We've never really had people who were super turned off, they kind of come in and fall in love with the space," she adds.
Not your grandfather's sewage treatment plant
The Brightwater wastewater treatment plant isn't the only sewage treatment facility to incorporate park-like grounds and an open-to-the-public educational component.
Writes Water Deeply:
A growing number of wastewater utilities are investing in public amenities in an effort to bring their work out of the shadows. They view it as a survival strategy: As recycled wastewater goes mainstream and decaying infrastructure demands expensive maintenance, they've decided Americans need to know more about what happens after they flush the toilet.
And they're finding out that people are interested.
Brightwater, however, appears to be unique in that it also functions as a highly unforgettable wedding venue, although there are a small number of other wastewater facilities that host commitment ceremonies including the Japanese garden at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys, California.
And there are more on the way.
Water Deeply details the plans for the Sterling Natural Resource Center, a water treatment plan due to kick off construction later this year in Highland, a small city in San Bernardino County, California. Like Brightwater, the Sterling Center will emphasize public space (a scarcity in Highland) and include walking trails and several acres of parkland along with an amphitheater, picnic areas and native plant gardens. Abutting the plant's lake-like detention pond will be a community center, which could potentially serve as a wedding venue once the project is completed.
"Instead of building something that you're trying to hide behind walls, we're actually going to make it the crown jewel of the community," John Mura, general manager of the East Valley Water District, tells Water Deeply.
Aside from its community strengthening (and wedding-hosting) ambitions, the Sterling Center is also notable in that it marks the first time the East Valley Water District will be treating its own sewage. Since the district was created in the 1950s, it has supplied residents with drinking water but piped wastewater to the nearby city of San Bernardino for treatment under contract. With this switch to local sewage treatment, residents will not see rate bumps in their utility bills ... and they'll get a nice new public green space out of it.
What's more, Mura explains that incorporating public space and an educational component will only add 10 percent to the cost of a run-of-the-mill wastewater treatment plant.
So many added benefits for so little money — this seems to be an investment that's worth every penny despite the blank stares and crinkled noses that the phrases "wedding venue" and "sewage treatment" will inevitably elicit when used in combination. But, hey — love is love and after four glasses of champagne and 20 minutes on the dance floor, even the most finicky wedding guests will forget all about what else is happening at the facility.