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HURON, OH – Sewage Treatment Plant Tour | Podcast

May 17, 2010

Chlorination and de-chlorination chambers. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

As part of part 5 of the series on water quality, Cassandra Lagunzad, accompanied by Lauren Berkelamp and Josh Pribanic, visited the Sawmill Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. This is a supplementary article to the video produced during that tour.

The visit to the Sawmill Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is full of friendliness, fascination and a certain kind of funk that can only come from the miracle of cleaning sewage water. Sanitary Engineer Jack R. Meyers, Environmental Specialist Robert L. Sennish and Superintendent Christopher McCarron were our guides. They were all very helpful and quick to provide information about the “ins and outs” of how the facility runs. They were also very cooperative in allowing us to interview them on camera for our series on water quality. The video will be available in next week’s publication of The Erie Wire.

This is actually the second time I have visited a waste water treatment facility, with my first experience being a field trip during high school in Conneaut, Ohio. The smell is the one thing that is both immediately evident and unforgettable. It is that smell of the sludge that makes the water’s transformation all the more amazing. All of the water that we use, from the whirlwind that disappears down the toilet to the sudsy melange from the kitchen sink, ends up here.

The first area they bring us to is basically a giant vat of dark, soiled water. Hanging precariously over the edge to get a better look was still a bit nerve-wracking as I tried to absorb as much information as I could while not falling in.

Eventually, we are taken through a room with machinery so loud that conversation with anyone but the person directly next to you is futile. When they told us to brace ourselves for one room, which contained the hopper storing the grit removed from the water, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was neither as gross looking or odoriferous as I anticipated. Even with that said, I certainly wouldn’t want to wad the stuff up into a ball and play catch with it.

One of the more fascinating portions of the tour was seeing the enclosed area where microorganisms were used to treat the water. Different enclosures contained different degrees of clean water so we could actually see the progression from one to another. After that, they showed us what looked almost like a beautiful fountain of clear, emerald water. I asked why at this particular stage the water looked green. They explained that algae grow along the edge due to the exposure of the sun through the clarity of the water. Apparently, the places where algae grow have to be cleaned every so often to keep it in check, almost like an algal “mow of the lawn.”

Rotating Biological Contactor (RBC) used as a type of liquefied composting. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

One of the more surprising aspects of the trip was how many birds seemed to flock to the facility. To them, it might as well have been a natural lake. I did see evidence of Canada Geese; however, I was relieved not to find them swimming around in any of the grit-rich sewage.

The tour trio told us that the plant runs all day, everyday, which I found amazing. I asked what would happen in the event of a blackout, and was relieved to hear they have backup generators that run on diesel fuel for upwards of four days. In reference to the Northeast Blackout of 2003, Meyer stated that the impact was minimal considering the blackout was only for about four hours.

Jack R. Meyers discussing CSO systems. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

We also asked about Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO), and were told that the CSO system for Huron differs from the one in Sandusky. In Huron the pipes for sewage are separated from stormwater pipes, so there’s a reduced likelihood for CSO problems. In Sandusky both the stormwater and wastewater run through the same system, and during heavy storms rainwater can fill up a treatment facilities capacity and cause CSO.

I asked whether they found substances in the water that were undesirable that should not be dumped down the drain. They said the biggest culprit is gasoline, which is a hazardous material and should be disposed of responsibly.

Overall, the tour was informative and very thorough. These tours are open to the public, and are definitely worth it for people curious about what happens after waste water passes through the pipes.

(Note: this recording may take a minute to load: please be patient. Also, some recordings do not play well on built-in computer speakers; and would require headphones or a strong set of speakers attached to your computer.)

Huron Wastewater Treatment Plant | Podcast

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Seondary clarification tank. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

Methane generator used to heat and cool facility. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic


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