Move Over Drinking Water. This Beauty Contest Is All About Effluent

Wastewater treatment plants takes center stage in this first-ever effluent competition.
Move Over Drinking Water. This Beauty Contest Is All About Effluent
Judges Bill Patenaude, Gina Snyder and Amy Parmenter hold up an effluent sample in Rhode Island's first-ever "Excellence in Effluent" competition.

Swirl, sniff. Swirl, sniff. Repeat.

The judges held the Mason jars up to their noses, swirled the water, held it up to the light and looked at it in front of a white background. But taste it? No.

This was not a water-tasting competition. The title at stake was not “best-tasting water” or “best tap water.” This was an Excellence in Effluent competition — a chance for wastewater treatment plants to take center stage.

For the first time ever, the Atlantic States Rural Water and Wastewater Association added the “Excellence in Effluent” event to its annual drinking water competition. After scrutinizing and debating the samples, the judges’ panel declared the Smithfield (R.I.) Wastewater Treatment Plant the winner.

“There were definite differences,” says Galen McGovern, project manager for the association. “The judges were really noticing things in this simple way of doing it.”

Although the winner was determined through relatively simple criteria this first year — ratings were based on clarity, odor and aesthetics — the association hopes to expand the event for 2015, adding more technical tests.

“We want to make it a little more scientific, and think about how to judge the samples a little more,” says McGovern.

To promote the event and generate some buzz, McGovern attended the Narragansett Water Pollution Control Association meeting.

“I brought this big box of jars to the meeting,” she says. “I handed out the sampling jars and then we emailed all of the wastewater plants.”

The result? Of the 20 treatment plants in Rhode Island, 10 entered the competition.

“We wanted to just get it started, and to get half of the systems in the state was a pretty good success,” she says.

A competition like this is a great way to publicize what wastewater treatment plants do because the public can see the end product. Not to mention, it’s a great chance for plants to earn a little recognition.

As for Smithfield? The plant, which has tertiary treatment, received $100, a trophy and a lot of excellent press. Well, and bragging rights in Rhode Island.

What type of criteria should be added to next year’s competition? And would you like to see a similar competition in your state?


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