Creepy, crawly, spooky. These words spell Halloween. But have you ever considered tying the theme into your wastewater treatment plant tours?
The team at the Dry Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, operated by Sanitation District No. 1 (SD1) in Villa Hills, Ky., is taking advantage of the clichéd views about “icky” clean-water facilities. Halloween-themed tours at the district’s oldest facility are sure to offer some “spooky” sightings.
Two-hour plant tours scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 23, from 5 to 7 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 26, from 10 a.m. to noon, will highlight the “scary” things associated with wastewater treatment as well as tips the public can follow to help protect their homes and public health. The 34 mgd (average) plant serves 94,000 commercial, residential and industrial customers in three counties.
Get the message out
Jamie Holtzapfel, SD1 director of communications, says the idea for the Halloween-themed tours was a team effort. “My communications team has been brainstorming unique ways to get our message out to the public,” she says. “Communication specialist Valerie Forsyth saw an article several months ago about a New York treatment plant that offered Valentine’s Day tours and gave all attendees a Hershey’s Kisses chocolate.
“When thinking of ideas that would be appropriate for our community, Valerie thought the Halloween-themed tours seemed like a good idea because nothing is scarier than being responsible for 34 mgd of wastewater except for maybe what would happen if SD1 wasn’t able to treat wastewater. This theme will not only allow us to take people on tours of our oldest treatment plant (which has some spooky spaces), it will also allow us to offer timely community tips with the upcoming holidays when people do a lot of cooking and hosting.”
The tours are open to the general public including adults and children ages 7 and up. The plant team hopes to increase public awareness about plant processes and the vital role SD1 plays in the community with this creative outreach effort.
Joe Baxter, plant manager, is excited to lead the tours. “We wanted a creative way to get important information out to the customers about what is all involved in the treatment of wastewater,” he says. “We wanted to do it in a fun and more interactive way. When it comes to wastewater treatment, what better theme than Halloween?”
Props and decorations, including cobwebs draping the newly updated laboratory, will create the perfect Halloween atmosphere as visitors are shown various plant processes.
Baxter will join laboratory and pretreatment manager Sarah Griffith, director of operations John Clark, and a retired district employee who has volunteered his time in leading the tours. Baxter stresses that the plant is not using customers’ money to sponsor the tours.
“The employees will be guiding tours on their own time,” he says. “We’re not using any ratepayers’ money to buy decorations or giveaways. All the event’s supplies and giveaways are funded by a Wal-Mart grant for educational outreach.”
All attendees will receive “trick or treatment” goodie bags funded through the grant.
With a lean staff, not everyone plans to dress up for the tours. “Most of the staff will just be focused on their normal tasks,” Baxter says. “But as tour guides we’ll be wearing some big hair wigs, something to make people feel comfortable. We don’t want anyone to feel intimidated.
“We’re not going to talk above anyone’s head,” Baxter continues. “We’re going to talk in language they can understand about things like baby wipes and paint thinner. The public doesn’t necessarily understand the names of bacteria, but they understand good bugs and bad bugs.”
Don’t be scared
The tours aim to teach visitors about the “scary” aspects of wastewater treatment, without actually frightening anyone.
“We’re hoping this theme will reach out and pull some folks in to take the tour who normally wouldn’t,” Baxter says. “It’s not a haunted house. We’re not trying to scare anyone, we’re not going to have people jumping out.
“As we walk through the various phases of our treatment process, we will identify what we call the ‘scary’ thing for that process. For example, with our headworks and our bar screens, baby wipes have been a hot topic because they don’t break down in the waste stream and they’re typically in like-new form by the time they show up at the treatment plant. The effects they can have on our screening equipment and some of our pumps can be scary for us.
“SD1 has three large wastewater treatment plants that serve more than 30 cities within three counties. Because of wastewater treatment and clean drinking water, diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis and dysentery are rare. Unfortunately, they are common in areas of the world that lack these basic services.”
This will be the plant’s first Halloween-themed tour, and Baxter wants to make sure it leaves a lasting impression on visitors.
“This is the first time we’re doing this so people may leave here just laughing and thinking we’re crazy,” he says. “But we hope by putting the Halloween spin on it people will come just to have some fun and check out the plant. Then they’ll leave thinking the tour was done tastefully, but also in a visitor-friendly way, and then maybe a year from now they’re more supportive of us.
“People in this industry are always looking for a positive way to get the message out to the general public. This seems like a really good venue to do that. You can never be too creative to get people to come into your facility because that’s sometimes the best way to educate. They come in and see a nice, clean facility run by professionals, and it just makes the experience that much better. It’s a good way to reach out, almost like an open house, but to have a little fun with it as well.”
What does your clean-water plant do during the holidays to increase public awareness? Post a comment below.